When Jacksonville opted to take DE/EDGE, Travon Walker out of Georgia, it was the belief that Detroit had a no-brainer with the second overall pick. The Michigan defensive end, Aidan Hutchinson, had appeared at the very top of just about every major draft board, so it came as a surprise to many when the Jaguars passed on him. Detroit didn’t overthink the selection and gladly snagged Hutchinson with the intent of inserting him into the lineup as an instant impact starter. Now, nearly halfway through the season, we have seen plenty of the young pass rusher. Surpassing our expectations in some areas, while failing to reach the level of play we expected in others.
Through Week 8, Hutchinson has logged 17 total tackles, while leading all rookies in sacks (4.5) and QB hits (9). On paper these numbers show that the rookie is living up to his second-overall pick status, however, this hasn’t been the case every game. Three of his sacks and QB hits came from a Week 2 win over the Commanders, which still serves as his best film from the season. Hutchinson hasn’t been completely ineffective in Detroit’s other outings, there have simply been inconsistencies in his play as the Lions continue to figure out how to utilize him.
Hutchinson can be spotted all over the defensive line over the course of a single game, but it is clear that his most dominant performances come from the inside. The rookie’s explosive burst off the line and well-timed moves against linemen are even more polished than was initially perceived at Michigan. Even when he doesn’t earn the sack, Hutchinson can provide enough inside pressure to collapse the pocket and affect the quarterback on a consistent basis. It’s only when he is moved to the edge that Hutchinson’s weaknesses are truly exposed.
Coming out of college one of the biggest knocks on Hutchinson was his inability to read the run game in certain scenarios. Since coming into the league this weakness has only been amplified. Playing against more athletic backs in complicated blocking schemes has made Hutchinson look slow as he lacks the lateral quickness to jump off of the edge and disrupt plays at the line of scrimmage. It is easy to highlight his struggles in spotting the run, but hard to put too much blame on the rookie who stands as just one piece of a defense that gives up over 160 yards per game on the ground (31st).
Like much of this Lions team, Hutchinson still has a lot to clean up before he meets the high expectations placed on him. It is abundantly clear that he must make personal strides in his game to improve his production, but DC Aaron Glenn and the rest of the coaching staff are also vital in this process. Adjustments made in the game against the Cowboys gave us a glimpse of what using Hutchinson to his full potential could possibly look like. Recognizing his strengths, coaches moved Hutchinson to the interior of the line for the majority of his snaps, allowing him to post solid single-game numbers while playing his brand of football. As the staff in Detroit continues to find out what they have in the Michigan product, we may begin to see performances like the one against Dallas more often.