LAS VEGAS – Aidan Hutchinson won’t have to go far to find his new home.
Hutchinson is the first of what is expected to be two first-round picks for a Lions team coming off a 3-13-1 season and that allowed the second-most points in the NFL last year. The Lions also have the 32nd pick, which they acquired in the 2021 trade of Matthew Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams.
Hutchinson set a Michigan single-season record with 14 sacks last year, led the Wolverines to their first-ever College Football Playoff appearance and was considered by many the best prospect in the draft.
“He’s a guy that gets you out of your seat,” Stanford coach David Shaw told the Free Press on Wednesday. “I mean, he’s going to make plays. He makes them in college and his skills are translatable to the NFL. Length, speed, technique. aggression. Effort. I love putting the film on and seeing half a guy’s tackles are effort plays, where initially he was blocked or the ball’s thrown and he turns around and makes a play down the field. And that’s what you see from him. It is hair on fire, every single play. I think he’s elite. I think he’s special.”
The Lions are counting on Hutchinson to be a force multiplier for their defense and team. They have not made the playoffs since 2017, they are coming off four consecutive last-place finishes in the NFC North and ranked 27th in the league in sack percentage last year.
Second-year Lions coach Dan Campbell said he wanted “a Day 1 starter” out of the No. 2 pick, and general manager Brad Holmes said he was looking for “a game-changer,” not unlike what the team believes it has in last year’s No. 7 overall pick, offensive tackle Penei Sewell.
Sewell started 16 of a possible 17 games as a rookie, splitting his time between left and right tackle.
Hutchinson should have a similar role this fall. The Lions return sack leader Charles Harris from last year’s defense and expect Romeo Okwara back from a torn Achilles tendon sometime this summer, but Hutchinson is well-rounded enough to be a Day 1 starter at defensive end on the Lions’ revamped even-man front .
He is considered a polished pass rusher — he learned the game from his father, former Michigan defensive lineman Chris Hutchinson — and plus run defender, and Shaw said his upside is similar to that of three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year JJ Watt.
“He’s got the natural tools, he’s got the physical tools, he has the speed and explosion and he gives great effort,” Shaw said. “That’s who you’re looking for. I’m not saying he’s JJ Watt, but I don’t think he’s that far behind. I think he’s the guy we’re talking about.”
Hutchinson, 6 feet 7 and 260 pounds, grew up in Plymouth and played high school football and lacrosse at Dearborn Divine Child. He had a productive career at Michigan, where he was voted a two-time captain and finished runner-up for the Heisman Trophy as a senior.
Along with Hutchinson, the Lions were believed to be considering a group of prospects that included pass rushers Kayvon Thibodeaux of Oregon and Jermaine Johnson II of Florida State at No. 2.
Long-rumored to be the No. 1 pick of the draft, Hutchinson said he learned Wednesday he likely would slide to at least No. 2. The Lions, he said, were his ideal landing spot.
“I was talking to my agent, he told me yesterday that it was about 90% that I don’t go to Jacksonville,” Hutchinson said in a video call with Detroit reporters. “But then I don’t even know how this all happened. It felt like things started changing a couple days ago, but I’m grateful to be where I’m at.”
The Jaguars took Georgia pass rusher Travon Walker with the first pick Thursday, and the draft trended heavily towards defense in the early going.
After Hutchinson, the Houston Texans took LSU cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. at Pick No. 3, the New York Jets followed with Cincinnati cornerback Ahmad Gardner, a Detroit native, at No. 4and the New York Giants took Thibodeaux at five.
Hutchinson is the highest-drafted edge rusher ever by the Lions, who have seven picks remaining, including No. 32 at the end of the first round and the second pick of Friday’s second round, No. 34 overall.
They entered the draft with five of the first 100 selections.
“I’m just going to come in and just be me,” Hutchinson said. “Obviously, I’m going to stay quiet, I’m a rookie, I’m young. I’m just going to go, put my nose to the grindstone and really just get after it and not say a whole bunch, but just earn the respect of others before I ever think to step up. But I’m just going to go there and do my thing and do what I’ve always done.”