Aidan Hutchinson

Lions Never Considered Drafting CB Ahmad Gardner At No. 2

The Lions and Jets are facing off in a matchup pitting two teams which had top-five picks in the most recent draft against one another. While reflecting on Detroit’s approach this past April, Lions coach Dan Campbell made it known that the Jets’ top pick was never on their radar.

When speaking about the possibility of selecting cornerback Ahmad Gardner second overall, Campbell admitted that he was not the subject of serious consideration. “We thought about a lot of different guys, but I never really felt it went there for [general manager] Brad [Holmes] and myself,” he said, via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press“We felt pretty comfortable with where we wanted to go with it.”

That, of course, is a reference to Detroit’s intention of adding to their pass rush with their top selection. Aidan Hutchinson allowed them to do just that, after a highly productive career at Michigan. The 22-year-old has been the subject of criticism after his inability to follow-up his Week 2 performance with more multi-sack games, but he leads all rookies with seven on the year. He has added 23 pressures, six tackles for loss and a pair of interceptions, making him a contender for Defensive Rookie of the Year and leading to expectations that he will be a franchise cornerstone for years to come.

The same also holds true of Gardner, though, considering the start he has had to his NFL career. The Jets selected the Bearcats alum fourth overall, after he established himself as arguably the top corner in the class. The 6-3, 200-pounder has been an immediate every-down starter in New York, and has racked up two interceptions and a league-leading 16 pass deflections during the campaign. He has been a standout in coverage as well, allowing a completion percentage of just over 52%.

Like Hutchinson, Gardner is a Michigan native, so Detroit choosing the latter would have carried a similar storyline to the one developed by taking the former. Birkett notes that the Lions had scheduled a visit with Gardner, but that never took place. Keeping their attention on Hutchinson allowed them to maintain a starting duo of Jeff Okudah and Amani Oruwariye at corner. The latter has struggled considerably compared to his breakout campaign last season, though, and the Lions’ defense has been among the league’s worst all year.

Nevertheless, both teams are likely satisfied with how the top of the draft board shook out, and they are each in contention for a postseason berth entering the final few weeks of the campaign.

Edge Notes: Ravens, Lions, Browning, Hawks

After letting both Matt Judon and Yannick Ngakoue walk during the 2021 free agency period, the Ravens acquired a first-round pick in the Orlando Brown Jr. trade. The team entered the draft determined to use one of its two first-round choices on an edge defender, but strategy played a role in the team ending up with Odafe Oweh. The Ravens would have been happy with either Oweh or Greg Rousseau, Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic notes, but also wanted to leave last year’s first round with a wide receiver.

We heard previously the Ravens expected the Packers to select Bateman, whom several execs viewed as the team most likely to draft the Big Ten prospect. That played into Baltimore’s edge defender blueprint as well. The team had Oweh and Rousseau ranked similarly on its 2021 draft board, Zrebiec adds, leading to Bateman being prioritized with the No. 27 pick. Waiting for No. 31 to make its edge rusher selection paid off, as Oweh remained on the board. The Bills took Rousseau at 30. (The Packers took cornerback Eric Stokes at 29.) Through 1 1/4 seasons, Oweh has six sacks, four forced fumbles and 17 quarterback hits. Rousseau checks in with similar production, having tallied eight sacks — four already this season — along with one strip and 16 QB hits.

Here is the latest from the NFL’s edge defender landscape:

  • The Ravens used Jason Pierre-Paul extensively alongside Oweh in Week 4, playing the recently signed veteran on 55 defensive snaps. Their one-year Pierre-Paul deal is worth $1.35MM, according to OverTheCap. The contract includes a $150K signing bonus and playing time- and sack-based incentives that could take the price north of $5MM, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com tweets. This is a lower-priced deal than JPP is accustomed to signing, but he has a chance to be the rare free agent to sign in-season and earn potentially far more than the veteran minimum.
  • The Lions will be waiting a bit longer to deploy their two-Okwara edge-rushing attack. Eligible to return from the Lions’ PUP list this week, Romeo Okwara will likely need more time to recover from his 2021 injury, Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press notes. Okwara, who suffered an Achilles tear just more than a year ago, did not return to practice this week when first eligible.
  • Detroit’s pass rush, when at full strength, is set to include Romeo and Julian Okwara, Charles Harris and first- and second-round picks Aidan Hutchinson and Josh Paschal. That said, the Lions are adding another edge rusher to the equation. Rookie UDFA Demetrius Taylor is going to play defensive end in his debut this week, Birkett notes. Signed as a UDFA defensive tackle, Taylor will shift to a big D-end role as the Lions attempt to pick up the pieces on defense. This will likely lead to Hutchinson, who had previously played the team’s “big end” spot, rushing from around the formation, per Birkett. Taylor saw some time at D-end at Appalachian State.
  • It will not be second-round pick Nik Bonitto getting the call to replace Randy Gregory; Baron Browning will play that role for the Broncos beginning Thursday night, Troy Renck of Denver7 tweets. This will be an interesting stretch for Browning, whom the Broncos used as an inside linebacker during his 2021 rookie season. The third-round pick moved to the outside this offseason, helping lead to the late-August Malik Reed trade, and has impressed the coaching staff. Bonitto, who began the season as a healthy scratch despite being Denver’s top 2022 draftee, will see more time as a rotational cog behind Browning and Bradley Chubb.
  • The Seahawks will give second-rounder Boye Mafe more playing time, Pete Carroll said this week. This will be interesting considering the rookie logged a season-high 32 defensive snaps against the Lions. Mafe, who has one sack thus far this season, registered 10 in his final college campaign.

Lions Not Considering DC Aaron Glenn Replacement

The Lions have shown a dramatic turnaround on offense this season, but their performance on the other side of the ball has led to them owning a 1-3 record. Defensive changes are coming, according to head coach Dan Campbell, but that will not include replacing defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn

Detroit leads the NFL in points and yards per game on offense one month into the 2022 campaign. However, they rank dead last defensively in both of those categories, as showcased most recently in Sunday’s 48-45 loss to the Seahawks. In response, Campbell, Glenn and the rest of the team’s defensive staff are eyeing alterations to their personnel packages and scheme (Twitter link via team reporter Tim Twentyman).

One of those could involve more diversity in the ways rookie Aidan Hutchinson is deployed. This year’s No. 2 overall pick had a noteworthy second career game with three sacks, but has been held without one in the three other contests. He has six tackles for loss and eight QB pressures, but could be used in different alignments within the formation moving forward, Twentyman tweets.

Glenn, meanwhile, has been a rising name in the coaching ranks around the league. Detroit hired the former defensive back last season, amidst interest from several other teams. That was the case again this offseason, with the Saints eyeing a return to New Orleans for the 50-year-old to fill their head coaching vacancy representing one of many interviews he received. Despite his unit’s struggles early on, Campbell is backing Glenn to retain his position.

“I’ve had to do this before and I’m not afraid to make a hard decision,” Campbell said yesterday, via the Detroit Free Press“If I really believed that was the cause of it and I don’t believe it is. I believe that Aaron Glenn was the right man for the job and he gives us our best hope, our best option, to run this defense. I just do.”

The Lions will look to improve defensively against another 1-3 squad, the Patriots, in Week 5. New England is facing a number of questions at quarterback, so that game could represent a useful opportunity to begin a turnaround.

Lions Sign No. 2 Pick Aidan Hutchinson

The list of rookies to sign their first NFL contracts continues to grow, and now includes the draft’s second overall pick. The Lions have signed Aidan Hutchinson to his rookie deal, as confirmed by his agent, Mike McCartney. 

NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport details (on Twitter) that the contract has a fully-guaranteed value of just over $35.7MM across four (or, with a team option, five, years), and includes a signing bonus of nearly $23.2MM. Hutchinson becomes the second top-five pick to ink his inaugural deal, joining Ahmad Gardner of the Jets.

The Michigan native followed in his father’s footsteps playing for the Wolverines in college. His career started to take off during his sophomore season, as he totalled 69 tackles, including 11 for a loss and 3.5 sacks. That led to heightened expectations for the following campaign, but it was cut short by a fractured leg.

While Hutchinson was again the subject of optimism for an overall strong Michigan defense going into this past season, he wasn’t in the conversation to be in consideration for the top pick. That changed week by week, as he authored one of the most productive campaigns in school history, setting a program record with 14 sacks, adding 16.5 tackles for loss and a pair of forced fumbles. That made him a finalist for the Heisman trophy, as well as a candidate for Jacksonville with the No. 1 pick.

Ultimately, the Jaguars made Travon Walker the top selection, leaving the dream scenario in play for Detroit. The Lions didn’t hesitate to pick Hutchinson, making him an immediate anchor of the team’s defense. He – alongside third-rounder Josh Paschal – will look to boost the Lions’ pass rush and continue the overall progress made at the end of the 2021 campaign.

Not long before the Hutchinson signing was announced, the Lions inked their final 2022 draftee. Seventh-rounder Chase Lucas agreed to terms on his rookie deal, per Rapoport’s colleague Mike Garafolo (Twitter link).

Trade Down, OL Still In Play For Jaguars At No. 1?

Hours away from the start of this year’s draft, pundits and fans alike find themselves surrounded by uncertainty at even the very top of the board. Many expect the decision facing Jacksonville at No. 1 to come down to their preference between Travon Walker and Aidan Hutchinson, but other options may still be in play. 

Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio reports that “the Jaguars are still hoping that they can find a path out of the top pick”. It has been known for a while that a number of teams set to pick in the top 10 – including the Jaguars – have been willing to move down, given the lack of surefire talent in this class. As Florio adds, however, they “continue to find no takers”.

Last week, it was reported that no one was calling Jacksonville regarding the top selection. This late in the game, the same appears to be true; most talk of movement within the top handful of teams relates to clubs wanting to add picks later on in the draft, rather than targeting specific prospects. Still, if the Jaguars remain split on their preference at No. 1, they would likely be amenable to any last-minute deal.

Meanwhile, Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated adds that offensive line might be on the table for the team to consider when they are on the clock. He is “still not ruling out” a linemen (presumably Ikem Ekwonu or Evan Neal) being the team’s eventual choice. Jacksonville has been linked to the former during the run-up to the draft, but the multi-year extension just given to left tackle Cam Robinson further points towards Walker or Hutchinson.

Seven hours from now, the team’s ultimate decision will be known. Until then, speculation is likely to continue regarding the start of a highly intriguing draft year.

NFC Draft Notes: Giants, Lions, Falcons, Vikings, Eagles

We took a look at draft notes out of the AFC earlier this evening. In anticipation of Thursday’s draft, let’s pivot to the NFC:

  • The Giants are currently sitting with picks No. 5 and No. 7, but there’s a chance they move back in the first round. If they end up finding a trade partner, Dan Duggan of The Athletic believes the organization could be targeting Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum later in the first round. Staying in New York, Peter King of Football Morning in America writes that the Giants could select Oregon edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux at No. 7. Some recent reports indicated the Giants front office was down on the prospect, but King says the team has “done a ton of work on him since his Pro Day.” The Giants are also “extremely interested” in Florida State pass rusher Jermaine Johnson II and Mississippi State offensive tackle Charles Cross, per Aaron Wilson of ProFootballNetwork.com.
  • Speaking of Thibodeaux, there’s a chance the edge jumps all the way to No. 2. While King has the Lions selecting Michigan edge Aidan Hutchinson with the second-overall pick, the reporter cautions that Detroit is “smitten” with the Oregon defender and could shake up the draft board by selecting him earlier than expected. Meanwhile, ESPN’s Todd McShay doesn’t see Thibodeaux falling pass the Falcons at No. 8.
  • Wrapping up King’s notes, the reporter writes that the Falcons like Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral. King has Atlanta trading up to select the signal-caller at No. 32, but there’s a chance Corral ends up falling to them anyway at their current selection at No. 43. Meanwhile, there hasn’t been much buzz connecting the Falcons to a quarterback at No. 8, according to NFL Network’s Cameron Wolfe.
  • The Vikings are eyeing cornerbacks at No. 12, according to Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports. The reporter hints that a team outside of the top-12 could look to jump the Vikings in pursuit of one of the draft’s top cornerbacks.
  • McShay had a handful of notable tidbits about some NFC squads. The Seahawks are taking a “hard look” at Georgia defensive tackle Jordan Davis at No. 9, and the front office is also intrigued by LSU cornerback Derek Stingley Jr.. Meanwhile, the Eagles “preference” at No. 15 could be Alabama wideout Jameson Williams, and there’s little chance the receiver falls past the Saints at No. 16. Albert Breer of SI.com shares a similar sentiment about the Eagles, with sources telling him that the Eagles are seeking a pass rusher.
  • Continuing in Philly, the Eagles may not end up even selecting at No. 15. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport suggests (on Twitter) that the Eagles could be a candidate to move up in the first round. The reporter suggests that the front office could be targeting a cornerback or edge rusher.

AFC Draft Notes: Chiefs, Jaguars, Texans, Steelers

We’re only two days away from the NFL Draft. Let’s take a look at some assorted draft notes out of the AFC:

  • The Chiefs are armed with 12 selections in the upcoming draft, including picks No. 29 and No. 30. According to Albert Breer of SI.com, Kansas City’s front office has started to call teams in the 20s about trading up. Breer opines that a potential deal could precede a second trade up the draft board.. Breer speculates that the Chiefs could be eyeing one of the league’s top receivers, but he also cautions that the front office could make “an aggressive move” for a cornerback or pass-rusher.
  • We can add two more teams to the list of Trevor Penning suitors. According to Aaron Wilson of ProFootballNetwork.com, the Titans and Chiefs are among the teams being mentioned as landing spots for the Northern Iowa left tackle. Kansas City would likely have to trade up in order to acquire the lineman. The Ravens, Titans, and Panthers have previously been linked to Penning.
  • Four prospects are believed to be in play for the Jaguars at No. 1 overall, but ESPN’s Todd McShay is hearing a lot of buzz around Georgia edge rusher Travon Walker. Sources believe the Jaguars prefer Walker’s “upside and traits” over Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson‘s “proven production, motor, and leadership.”
  • The Texans are high on Ohio State wide receiver Garrett Wilson, according to McShay. However, the Texans won’t take the wideout at No. 3, and they’d probably have to trade up from No. 13 in order to select Wilson. If that ends up being an unrealistic path, McShay could also envision the Texans trading out of the No. 13 spot.
  • The first QB off the board could end up going to the Steelers at No. 20, according to McShay. Pittsburgh is apparently eyeing Liberty’s Malik Willis, and the signal-caller could end up falling in their lap. However, the reporter seems to be cautioning that the Steelers may not be able to pull off “a Bill Belichick” (referring to last year’s Mac Jones pick), meaning the front office may have to trade up if they want Willis.

Jaguars’ Shad Khan, Trent Baalke Disagree On No. 1 Pick?

Four prospects are believed to be in play for the Jaguars at No. 1 overall, but it might be a matchup between two defensive ends by the time the top decision-makers huddle up for their final decision this week.

Shad Khan will observe the Trent Baalke– and Doug Pederson-led operation’s deliberations this week, Albert Breer of SI.com notes, and the longtime Jaguars owner said he has an opinion on which way the team should go at No. 1. Khan’s opinion appears to be that Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson is the way to go, per Tony Pauline of ProFootballNetwork.com, who adds Baalke is backing Georgia defensive lineman Travon Walker.

Despite his college production dwarfing Walker’s, Hutchinson now trails the size-speed freak in pre-draft odds to be the top pick. The Walker-Jaguars connection has persisted for several weeks now. Khan has held roster control in the past, and it would not surprise if the 10th-year Jags owner pulled the trigger on his preferred player. Khan would obviously prefer the room forms a consensus and intimated to Breer that Pederson and Baalke have control over the football operation.

Yeah, I have an opinion,” Khan said, via Breer, of the No. 1 pick. “I do have an opinion. We are supposed to get together on Wednesday, and so I don’t have as firm a decision as I did maybe last year, but I do have it. I think we’ll have to really firm up the draft board, so we have clarity on all the permutations and combinations we’re gonna hit.”

During Pederson’s tenure, the Eagles devoted significant resources to bolstering their offensive line. The new Jags HC may not be opposed to such a strategy this year, despite this draft’s bevy of high-end D-line prospects. The Jags were connected to Ikem Ekwonu early in the pre-draft process, before franchise-tagging Cam Robinson for a second time, and Breer hears Baalke is a fan of the North Carolina State O-lineman. Ekwonu remains in play for the Jags at 1, ESPN.com’s Matt Miller tweets.

The team is rumored to be close on a Robinson extension, and Jawaan Taylor has started at right tackle in Jacksonville for the past three years. Pro Football Focus, which graded Jacksonville’s O-line 24th overall last season, viewed Taylor as the team’s weakest link up front in 2021. Of course, no Jaguar blocker graded particularly well here. Jacksonville added Brandon Scherff but could upgrade at its other guard spot. Ekwonu played tackle and guard in college; some view guard as his better NFL position.

NFL Draft Prospect Profile: Michigan DE Aidan Hutchinson

At the beginning of the 2021-22 college football season, no one expected hometown Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson to become a favorite for the No.1 overall pick of the 2022 NFL Draft. Months later and days away from the first round of the Draft, Hutchinson is almost certainly one of four prospects being considered by Jacksonville for the honor of No.1 draft pick. 

Hutchinson was a consensus four-star recruit at Divine Child HS in Dearborn, MI. His recruitment process was drama-free as he decided to attend nearby University of Michigan, the alma mater of his father, Chris Hutchinson, who played for the Wolverines back from 1989-92. Aidan appeared in every game of his freshman and sophomore year, breaking out a bit as a starter his second season with 68 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and 10.0 tackles for loss, adding four quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles. Hutchinson was set to start for the second straight year opposite Kwity Paye for the COVID-shortened season, before his year came to an early end after suffering a fracture in his leg that would require season-ending surgery.

Coming into his senior year, Hutchinson had 98 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and 11.5 tackles for loss, adding seven quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles to the stat line for his career. The numbers are nothing to scoff at, especially when you consider that most of them are solely from his sophomore year, but, still, no one really put Hutchinson in the same realm as the expected first overall pick at the time, Oregon defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux.

Fast-forward now to the end of Hutchinson’s senior season. Hutchinson set a school record with 14.0 sacks in a single season, more than tripling his output from his first three years combined. He tacked on 62 tackles and led the teams in tackles for loss and quarterback hurries with 16.5 and 12, respectively. After a dominant performance versus rival Ohio State that saw the 21-year-old tally 3.0 sacks and 3.0 tackles for loss, Hutchinson shot up draft boards, pushing what was likely a first-round selection into conversations for the No. 1 overall selection.

When it was all said and done, after the season and the Combine and the pro day, Aidan Hutchinson sat atop the Draft prospect rankings of both Daniel Jeremiah of NFL Network and Dane Brugler of The Athletic. Hutchinson is built to be a pass-rusher. He’s extremely strong with quick feet and efficient hand use. He knows he can win relatively easily at the college level, so he tends to tolerate a bit more contact than is necessary, something he’ll need to avoid at the next level using the multitude of pass-rushing moves at his disposal. He’s a weight room warrior, but likely won’t be able to add much more weight at the next level. He’s probably maxed out his size. He has a high motor and quick recognition, but his instincts in the running game can hurt him occasionally. He’s often posed as a slightly lesser version of the Bosa brothers with a bit less bend.

Hutchinson attended this year’s Heisman ceremony, but left empty-handed. He’ll be in Las Vegas this Thursday and is sure to leave this time with a brand new jersey and hat. The odds of them being teal, black, and gold are extremely high, and, if they are, he may just be on a mission to reinstitute the moniker of “Sacksonville.”

Draft Rumors: Stingley, Jaguars, Alabama, Cine, Burks

According to Matt Miller of ESPN, Derek Stingley, Jr. is the hottest name in the 2022 NFL Draft right now. The LSU cornerback has long been considered one of the top-two cornerback prospects available, along with Cincinnati cornerback Ahmad Gardner. Miller claims that Stingley is trending as high as the top-three with the Lions or Texans rumored to be interested in him at No. 2 or 3 overall.

After a stellar freshman season, Stingley was easily viewed as the best cornerback that would be available by the 2022 Draft. But, after a subpar 2020 season and only appearing in three games last year, combined with another stellar season from Gardner, NFL teams have allowed a bit of room for Gardner to challenge as the best corner on the board. The NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah has Gardner ranked as the third-best prospect overall with Stingley at 15th, while Dane Brugler of The Athletic has Gardner at fifth overall with Stingley at 14th. Miller, though, seems to think Stingley won’t make it past the Seahawks at 9th overall on Thursday night.

Here are a few more notes for the upcoming Draft, starting with some speculation down in Duval:

  • Jaguars general manager Trent Baalke let it be known on Friday that Jacksonville is considering four players for their number one overall draft pick this Thursday, according to Charean Williams of NBC Sports. Many mock drafts have them going with Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson or Georgia defensive lineman Travon Walker, but they’ve also had their name attached to Alabama offensive tackle Evan Neal and NC State offensive lineman Ikem Ekwonu. It’s hard to imagine any other names entering the conversation for Jacksonville’s top pick.
  • On their postseason run last year, college football powerhouse Alabama lost two of their top pass catchers in two of the biggest games of their season. John Metchie tore his ACL in the team’s SEC Championship victory over Georgia on December 4th. A little over a month later, Jameson Williams tore his ACL in the team’s National Championship game loss to Georgia on January 10th. According to Jeff Howe of The Athletic, the two are progressing impressively in their recoveries, with that opinion being echoed by the NFL teams who have looked into their medical information. They may both be on track to play in the upcoming season, depending on how conservative of a team they end up with. The important thing, though, is that, while their stock may have been affected a bit by injury, they are both fully expected to hear their names called next week.
  • Georgie safety Lewis Cine visited with the Buccaneers this week, according to Jenna Laine of ESPN. Cine led the Bulldogs in tackles and passes broken up for the season last year en route to being named the defensive MVP of the team’s National Championship victory over Alabama. According to Laine, when asked if signing Logan Ryan and Keanu Neal precluded them from drafting a safety, Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht simply replied, “No.”
  • According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, Arkansas wide receiver Treylon Burks added two more teams to his list of visits earlier this week. Burks met with the Bears and Cardinals as he continues to trend in the first round. Read more about Burks in his NFL Draft Prospect Profile here.