Aidan Hutchinson is a rising star in the 2022 NFL Draft

Michigan EDGE Aidan Hutchinson. (Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images)
Michigan EDGE Aidan Hutchinson. (Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images) /

Through six weeks of the 2021-2022 college football season, it appears that the 2022 NFL Draft will end up having one of the weaker classes we’ve seen in the last couple of years. There aren’t many blue-chip prospects this year, and no quarterback has emerged as an elite prospect worthy of being the number one overall pick.

That doesn’t mean this class lacks talent, though. One of its biggest strengths is the edge rusher class, which features many talented players who could be top ten picks next April.

Heading into the season, Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux was on everyone’s radar, and most analysts had him as their top edge rusher, with no one coming close to taking the top spot. That’s still the case, but one player is emerging as one of the top edge defenders in the 2022 NFL Draft: Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson.

Aidan Hutchinson is the 2022 NFL Draft rising star.

Aidan Hutchinson is a 6-foot-6 265-pound edge rusher for the Michigan Wolverines. Through six weeks, he has 24 total tackles, six tackles for loss, and five sacks. His productivity thus far has skyrocketed his draft stock as he now sits at No. 5 on PFF’s big board for the 2022 NFL Draft.

He wasn’t an unknown player before this season, though. PFF’s Mike Renner and The Draft Network’s Drae Harris both had him inside the top 30 of their preseason big board at No. 29 and No. 26, respectively.

Aidan Hutchinson’s biggest strength is his ability to stop the run. PFF loves him as a run defender as he currently has a run defense grade of 86.2. His grade ranks seventh among defensive linemen with at least 104 snaps in a run defense role.

Although he is a massive edge rusher, he is swift, and he utilizes smooth footwork and excellent hand usage to disengage from pass blockers and tackle opposing running backs.

Against Western Michigan in week one, Aidan Hutchinson displayed how he can impact the run game. With 11:47 left in the second quarter, Western Michigan had the ball on 3rd and 2. They ran the ball to the right out of a pistol formation, and the Broncos may have picked up the first down had Hutchinson not been on the field.

Hutchinson utilized a swim move to penetrate the b gap  (the gap between the guard and tackle), and once he got past the line of scrimmage, he forced the running back to cut to the left. When the ball carrier cut to the left, he immediately got tackled by a Michigan defensive tackle. Hutchinson did not record a statistic on this play, but he is the reason why the play fell apart.

Hutchinson has unbelievable quickness, and his ability to move run blockers out of the way and penetrate the line of scrimmage makes him arguably the best run defender in the 2022 NFL Draft. Although he is a dominant run defender, he’s also a good pass rusher. Here are his pass-rushing stats through five games, along with his ranking for each metric.

Pressures: 30 (4th)

Sacks: 5 (T-13th)

Quarterback Hits: 5 (T-39th)

Quarterback Hurries: 20 (T-3rd)

The volume stats are extremely impressive, but the gaudy numbers don’t stop here. Among defensive linemen with at least 120 snaps in a pass rush role, Hutchinson ranks first in win rate on all passing plays with a mark of 32.3%. On true pass sets, he ranks fourth in win rate with a mark of 40.4%. This has led to him receiving the second-best pass-rush grade in the nation from PFF with a grade of 92.1. Simply put, he has been one of the most productive pass rushers in the 2022 NFL Draft.

His prowess as a pass rusher was on full display in week two as the Michigan Wolverines faced off against the Washington Huskies. He recorded three sacks and six pressures in that game and had a PFF pash rush grade of 75.1.

With 2:21 left in the 2nd quarter, Washington had the ball on 2nd and 10 down 10-0. Hutchinson was being blocked one-on-one, and he utilized a push-pull technique to win at the point of attack and sack the quarterback. This was an impressive play as he showcased the ability to string together multiple moves to win as a pass rusher.

As you can see, Aidan Hutchinson is a tremendous run defender, an extremely productive pass rusher, and he has great positional size. So what’s the catch? Unfortunately, there is one issue with his game that could present problems in the future. Although Hutchinson has incredible size and a versatile skill set, he isn’t an elite athlete.

To be clear, he isn’t a bad athlete. He consistently showcases exceptional quickness, especially for a guy his size, and his excellent hand usage allows him to create advantages as a pass rusher. However, he doesn’t have elite burst, and he struggles to win with speed.

According to ESPN, he had a SPARQ rating of 90.78 coming out of high school. SPARQ is an acronym that stands for speed, power, agility, reaction, and quickness, and the SPARQ rating is a metric that measures a player’s athleticism. Hutchinson’s rating of 90.78 was below average for a defensive end, and the reason it was so low was because of his 5.09 40 yard dash and 4.47 20 yard shuttle, which were both below average.

His lack of explosion means he has a limited pass-rushing repertoire as he won’t be able to run around offensive tackles. Instead, he’ll be forced to beat them with raw strength and nifty hand usage. This will make it easier for offensive tackles to block him since they don’t have to worry about getting beat with speed rushes. They can be conservative and focus on their footwork and hand placement.

Think of the best edge rusher prospects from the last few drafts. Guys like Chase Young, Myles Garrett, and Nick Bosa may come to mind. All of these guys were incredible athletes who could win in a variety of ways. Their versatility and outlier athleticism were the main reasons why they were heavily coveted prospects.

Hutchinson doesn’t have these same traits. Although he has been a very productive pass rusher this year, he lacks the speed and versatility to be an elite pass rusher in the NFL. This doesn’t mean he can’t be good, though. He has showcased some nice pass rush moves in college, and his motor is incredible. However, it does mean his ceiling likely has a cap.

The good thing is Aidan Hutchinson doesn’t have many holes in his game. I can nitpick about his athleticism all I want, but that doesn’t change the fact that he is an outstanding run defender and pass rusher. That kind of versatility makes him extremely valuable and gives him a high floor as a prospect. His combination of size, quickness, motor, and hand usage is hard to find, and if he performs well at the combine, he may just be a top five pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.