In the summer of 2020, the Michigan Wolverines were touting another standout defensive line prospect in defensive end Aidan Hutchinson. Hutchinson showed ample promise as the next in line behind high-impact front seven defenders like Chase Winovich and Josh Uche by coming off of a 3.5-sack, 10-TFL campaign in 2019 that also featured three forced fumbles and six passes defensed. But 2020 was about as uneventful of a campaign for Hutchinson as it was for the Wolverines in general; the potential first-round pick played in just three games before a leg injury cut his already abbreviated season short. And, when it came time to make a decision regarding the 2021 NFL Draft, Hutchinson made the choice to bet on himself and come back for another go-round with the Wolverines—2020 wasn’t the kind of final chapter that seemed to suit a second-generation Wolverine football player and a potential first-round talent.
Physical skills have never been the problem. Hutchinson was a member of Bruce Feldman’s annual ‘CFB Freaks List’. Hutchinson has been credited by the Wolverines S&C program with a 6.54s 3-cone drill, a 36” vertical leap, a 4.64s 40-yard dash, and a 4.07s short shuttle at 265 pounds. But through the first six weeks of the 2021 college season, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more impressive resume than what Hutchinson has put on display. He’s not just been disruptive, he’s been unstoppable. The whole product is coming together at the right time for Hutchinson, who likely passed on a top-50 draft selection this past spring even amid the abbreviated season by choosing to return to Michigan.
His most productive performance to date came against perhaps the best competition he’s had, as Hutchinson absolutely demolished one of the quality offensive tackle prospects of the 2022 draft in Washington’s Jaxson Kirkland. Whether it was speed or power, Hutchinson overwhelmed Kirkland on his way to 2.5 sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss. But even when Hutchinson isn’t stuffing the stat sheet, he’s changing games in the Wolverines’ favor on a weekly basis. And his status as a 2022 NFL Draft prospect is swelling because of it.
Instead of a fringe first-round prospect who could solidify himself as a top-32 selection in April, Hutchinson now appears to have skipped the majority of the line. He’ll be checking in at No. 5 overall on The Draft Network’s updated TDN100 rankings early next week and the No. 2 pass-rush prospect in the country behind Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux. And for my personal money, I wouldn’t dismiss the idea that Hutchinson may finish this process as a more highly rated prospect than Thibodeaux, either. Hutchinson is currently more developed and refined as a pass rusher and he’s more of a traditional build for playing with his hand in the dirt. Thibodeaux has more exciting splashes, but I do believe Hutchinson has a higher floor and a comparatively similar ceiling as a player.
While the TDN100 is a compilation of the opinions of everyone on the TDN scouting staff, we all also have our own sets of rankings. Thibodeaux checks in at this point in time as the No. 2 prospect on my personal board. Hutchinson is No. 3, up from the No. 30 overall ranking he carried into the season amid our summer scouting efforts.
And with Michigan State, Penn State, and Ohio State still looming on Michigan’s regular-season schedule, plus (presumably) at least one high-profile postseason game, Hutchinson is going to have ample coverage on the national stage to help further boost his perception and potentially catch Thibodeaux in the race for EDGE1. Based on how he’s played the first half of this college season, I wouldn’t rule anything out.