I ain’t gonna say I told you so, but man, I did try to tell everyone.
A few weeks ago, when I stated that the Detroit Lions were the best winless team I’d ever seen, and claimed that not only were they not the worst team in the league, but that they would not be picking first in next year’s draft, I was laughed out of the building.
Well, as of Sunday night, the Lions no longer hold the first pick of the 2022 NFL Draft. That honor now belongs to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
When the Lions held the first-overall pick in the draft, it was clear who they were going to take: Michigan edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson (6-foot-6, 265 pounds). He was built to move over from Ann Arbor and. play for the Lions in Detroit. He grew up half an hour from the Motor City. He went to UM for college. He’s gone on record saying how much he’d love to play for the Lions. Yes sir, Hutchinson and the Lions are a match made in heaven. However, with the Jaguars now holding the top pick in the draft, does that mean the Hutchinson-Lions reunion many football fans were hoping for is ruined?
The impulsive fan inside of me says no. The story of a young man who grows up cheering for his local team, going to his father’s alma mater where he breaks the school’s single-season sack record, being drafted by his childhood team No. 1 overall, then potentially bringing that historically miserable team to its first championship… that’s too awesome to pass up. However, the realist in me says, “yeah, it probably won’t happen.”
It really boils down to whether or not the Jaguars think Oregon’s 6-foot-5, 258-pound defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux can turn out to be as good as Hutchinson. For many people, the answer is yes. Just a few weeks ago, it would’ve been blasphemy to assume anyone other than Thibodeaux was going to be taken first overall. The Oregon edge defender employs a unique blend of power and technique that reminds several people of 2017 No. 1 pick Myles Garrett. The similarities are clearly there, but in recent weeks, Hutchinson’s incredible rise up the ranks of all-time Michigan sack leaders has steered eyes away from Thibodeaux.
Hutchinson was this year’s Heisman Trophy runner-up. His incredible 14-sack output this season helped lead the Wolverines to their first ever College Football Playoff appearance and their first Big Ten title since 2004. Hutchinson routinely dominated top competition from around the nation, and did so with a flurry of edge-rushing moves that would make even the most talented O-linemen feel inferior.
The key difference between Thibodeaux and Hutchinson is their-pass rushing style. Thibodeaux loves his bull rush and speed moves to throw his offensive lineman off-balance, pushing his way to the quarterback. He’s also, funnily enough, become very good at using his hands to help push. Most edge rushers like to get linemen’s hands off them quickly so they can run more freely into the backfield. Not Thibodeaux. He gets handsy back and loves to put his left hand into the lineman’s face and use that sort of stiff arm to help him push. It makes him more versatile as a rusher since he doesn’t always try to make a move to the outside or inside of his opponent, but rather straight through. Thibodeaux could work as an interior D-lineman, edge rusher, or outside linebacker with the strength he’s exhibited in college. He appears to be a “hand-in-the-dirt” kind of player, whereas Hutchinson is much more suited for an outside linebacker type of role. That’s not a knock on Hutchinson. In fact, in terms of pure pass-rushing prowess, I don’t think Thibodeaux stacks up to Hutchinson. However, the versatility of Thibodeaux makes him more appealing to a team in need of help at multiple positions on the D-line.
Go ahead. Look at the Jaguars’ depth chart and tell me what you see. Aside from Josh Allen, they need help everywhere on that defensive line. The only decent guy there is Dawuane Smoot, and he’s not exactly the type of player you can boast about.
No matter who Jacksonville takes, assuming it retains the No. 1 pick through the rest of the regular season, it simply can’t mess this up. Both Hutchinson and Thibodeaux are tremendous prospects who are sure to make an impact as soon as they take the field, and both would be fine additions opposite Allen. However, Thibodeaux would almost certainly fit the Jaguars better than Hutchinson would. So, yes! The dream is still alive that Hutchinson can find his way onto the Lions’ roster. Here’s to hoping the Jaguars view it the same way.