Despite having a very strong rookie season, many people think Aidan Hutchinson won’t be named Defensive Rookie of the Year. The first through seventh rounds of the 2022 Draft featured some highly talented athletes. Aidan Hutchinson, Sauce Gardner, and Tariq Woolen are among the top 3 and are the 3 finalists for Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Tariq Woolen of the Seahawks is up first. Woolen may come to mind because he was one of the cornerbacks that the Lions coached during the senior bowl. Many Lions fans thought the team should have selected him on Day 3 of the draft, but sadly for Lions fans, that didn’t occur. Woolen, who was elected to the Pro Bowl, had a promising first year. He had six picks and has even returned one for a score against Detroit in Week 4. The Downside for Woolen is even though the Seahawks made it to the playoffs, they crumbled down the stretch finishing just 3-5 over the last 8 games. Woolen remained rather quiet during that slump, but when attempting to win awards, being quiet is not a good idea. Being quiet makes others ignore you, not entirely, but enough to potentially miss out on winning an award.
Sauce Gardner of the Jets is next in line. The season has been excellent for the fourth overall pick. He has demonstrated enough to suggest that he may be the league’s upcoming shutdown corner. He has shown many similarities to corners like Darrelle Revis and Richard Sherman. Jared Goff didn’t even throw the ball his way when the Lions faced the Jets in week 15. He ended the season with the best PFF grade of any CB in the NFL with at least 200 snaps, at 88.5, and made the Pro Bowl and AP First Team All-Pro. The drawback for Gardner is similar to Woolen. The Jets slipped following early-season postseason hopes starting 5-2 but ending the season with a measly 7 wins including going 0-6 to end the season. He also hasn’t completed the stats sheet the way Woolen and Hutchinson have. He only has two interceptions in total, and no forced fumbles or sacks. Nevertheless, he tops the league in pass breakups with 20.
Lastly, Aidan Hutchinson of the Lions. He filled up the stat sheet the most out of any rookie in 2022 . He finished with 9.5 sacks, and 3 interceptions. Yes, 3 interceptions for a defensive lineman. He was the first defensive lineman to get 3 picks since Richard Dent in 1990, and the first rookie to ever accomplish that. Additionally, he continued to play well down the stretch for one of the hottest teams in the league, finishing the season 9-8 after starting 1-6. He captured several highlights, an enormous advantage over Gardner and Woolen, and he helped improve the Lions defensive line down the stretch. Hutchinson finished with a PFF grade of 79.9, which puts him well above all other rookie defensive lineman. The disadvantage for Hutchinson is that the voters could have already decided. Sauce Gardner experienced a unique year as some would argue he emerged as the best corner in the NFL. Hutch had an excellent rating of 79.9, but Gardner received an 88.5. As a result, he has the highest grade of any rookie and corner in the league. If a significant portion of the voters have analytical thinking, it will be difficult to argue against that.
Hutchinson has presented a strong argument and will definitely receive votes, but I’m not sure whether it will be enough to win Defensive Rookie of the Year with the way Sauce played. Tariq Woolen also has a strong case being tied for the most interceptions this year. The good news is the Lions have a guy who has performed well enough to even be given serious consideration and who will be a superstar edge rusher for years to come, even if he doesn’t win.