Sunday, January 23, 2022

2022 NFL Draft: How Michigan star DE Aidan Hutchinson rose to projected No. 2 pick status in 2021 season

Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson has announced that he will, as expected, enter his name into the 2022 NFL Draft after a standout four-year career with the Wolverines. Though Hutchinson could have stayed one more season thanks to the NCAA’s free year of eligibility granted amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Hutchinson made the move official as he is projected by CBS Sports’ collective group of draft experts as a consensus top-two pick. 

“I spent years visualizing the actual moments that unfolded in my final season at Michigan,” wrote Hutchinson on his Twitter account. “November 27, 2021 was 10 years in the making and could not have been a more unforgettable night with my brothers … My Michigan legacy is complete, and it was truly the best time of my life.” 

Hutchinson heads to the draft after a truly historic senior season. The Plymouth, Michigan, native finished No. 2 in the Heisman voting and earned consensus All-America honors after breaking the school’s single-season record with 14 sacks. The Wolverines went 12-2, won the Big Ten for the first time since 2004 and earned their first trip to the College Football Playoff. 

The senior finishes his career with 160 tackles, 28 tackles for loss, 18.5 sacks, nine passes defended and four forced fumbles. He is already one of the projected stars of the draft process and and could ascend to the No. 1 overall pick with a strong combine. 

Here’s a little more insight on how Hutchinson rose to the top of NFL Draft boards this season, as well as a quick look at where the Wolverines go from here after losing such an elite talent on defense. 

Slow but steady

Hutchinson saw the field almost immediately as a freshman after arriving at Michigan in 2018 and became a key contributor by his sophomore season. Because of injuries, however, he was a relative non-factor in Michigan’s pandemic-shortened 2020 season before transforming into a breakout player during the 2021 season. In all, he appeared in 43 games over his four years. 

At 6-foot-6 and 265 pounds, Hutchinson generated 74 hurries and 51 credited hurries in 14 games this past season, according to Pro Football Focus. His biggest moment, unquestionably, came against Ohio State, when he was credited with 12 hurries and three sacks in the program-defining 42-27 victory. 

The Buckeyes have been a longtime roadblock for Michigan, especially under coach Jim Harbaugh. The Wolverines had lost eight straight games against their bitter rival before snapping the streak in November, and Hutchinson’s performance cemented him as a legend in Ann Arbor. 

Hutchinson’s projected draft pedigree

The senior lands at No. 7 in the CBS Sports Prospect Rankings, but rates higher in mock drafts. All three of CBS Sports’ draft experts project Hutchinson as the No. 2 overall pick to the Detroit Lions.  

Hutchinson should test well when the time comes and projects as a dynamic edge defender who can win with both strength and technique. “Hutchinson wasn’t spectacular against Georgia, but he has the best combination of size, power, athleticism, and pass-rushing moves at the edge rusher spot in this class.” wrote CBS Sports’ Chris Trapasso. If the Lions draft him, he could form a dynamic pass-rushing team with rushing linebacker Charles Harris. 

Where Michigan goes

Hutchinson’s partner along the defensive line, David Ojabo, also declared for the draft earlier this week. Together, Hutchinson and Ojabo made up the best pass rushing duo in college football, and their departures leave the Wolverines without obvious go-to options. To make matters worse, talented defensive line coach Shaun Nua is heading to USC, according to Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel

Taylor Upshaw is the only other player on the roster with multiple sacks. Luckily, he plans to use his NCAA-allowed fifth year of eligibility. Additionally, Michigan could look to the transfer portal to find some edge rushers that could provide immediate impact. 

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