This series will feature the top NFL Draft prospects with insight from the beat reporters that covered them in college. This article is just a preview of the full interview which can be heard on the Deep Slant podcast.
Name: Aidan Hutchinson
School: Michigan (Senior)
Height/Weight: 6-6, 265
Hometown: Plymouth, Michigan
Below is a portion of Deep Sidhu's interview with Michigan beat reporter Isaiah Hole, who covers the University of Michigan for USA Today Sports, hosts the On Wolverines Podcast and is a Michigan alumnus.
Sidhu: Aidan Hutchinson, he's projected to be the No. 1 overall pick in a lot of drafts right now here in the 2022 NFL Draft class. How can a guy like him step in and instantly make an impact on an NFL defense like, say, a Lovie Smith 4-3?
Hole: I think the big thing for him is that he obviously has got the talent. He's got all of that, but he brings a culture perspective. Michigan wouldn't have been Big Ten champions, Michigan wouldn't have gone to the College Football Playoff semifinals if it wasn't for Aidan Hutchinson. He's the glue guy. He's the guy that gets everyone hyped, everyone fed off him. So I think that's the first and most important thing because you can't really put a price on that, you know? But he also had the production to go along with it.
He's certainly adept in a 4-3. He played more in a 3-4 this year, but because Mike McDonald came in from the Ravens before going back to the Ravens. He brought in a 3-4 style defense and Aidan really thrived in that, but Aidan thrived even when Don Brown was the defensive coordinator and he was playing in a 4-3. It just became even more glaring this particular year, I think, mostly because he had had an injury that precluded him from the field for most of 2020 and I think that he was just that hungry to go out and get it because I mean, we saw him in some 4-3 looks this year as well.
He technically was an outside linebacker this year but was obviously considered a defensive end for his entire career and I've just watched him get better and better. I've covered him going back to high school, and I've known him since he was a junior or sophomore in high school and just watching him develop. He's got the motor; he's got the physical tools. A lot of times people would look at that someone like him and say, 'Well, he's just gritty.' No, he's just as talented. He's not just outworking everybody. He is out-working everybody, but he is just as physically talented as anybody out there who plays the edge rusher or defensive-end position.
Sidhu: Well, the Texans had a great defensive lineman for about a decade in J.J. Watt and Hutchinson has drawn a lot of comparisons to the Watt brothers. Is that setting the bar too high for a guy that hasn't even played it down in the NFL yet, that he's getting compared to guys that are former (and current) Defensive Players of the Year?
Hole: It's always a little hard to project but I do think that that that is kind of his game. He does have a comparable game to T.J., which I think is the one that he's most comparable to. I think he's kind of like a higher-end version of him, at least coming out of college. I don't think there's anything wrong with looking at how a player does in college and thinking, 'Ok, they certainly if they actually are able to build upon that, then they'll be able to look a lot like this player.' I don't imagine that Aidan is going to have a disappointing NFL career. That would honestly shock me more than kind of anybody because he's got just so much drive like he won't let himself be anything but great. That's just who he is. So I think that it's a fair comparison.
Sidhu: Hutchinson suffered a season-ending injury back in 2020 and then he really bounced back and had a great 2021 campaign. How did he overcome that adversity to sort of have the performance that he did on the field last year and really elevate his draft stock?
Hole: It's a personal want-to. It amazes me that he broke his ankle. It was a really gruesome injury and the fact that not even a year later, he's out there setting the Michigan single-season sack record and doing things of that nature.
The story that Jim Harbaugh often talked about when it came to Aidan was that he when he got into winter conditioning last year, he went up to the strength staff and said, I want you to ring me out. I want you to every single day that I come in here, whether I feel like it or not, I want you to completely wear me out. I want you to completely wear me down. I want you to make me better. That's the type of guy he is. You know, he's always been like that. He was like that in high school as well.
He was a team captain and I think that's a mixture of not getting to play through much of 2020, knowing that he needed to put the team on his back and wanting to kind of reverse what Michigan started to become known for, which was losses to Ohio State. I think that all of that played a factor into his drive, but I think that even if it wasn't, I mean, he's just a driven guy.
Sidhu: You've covered him for four years at Michigan. Is there a particular play or most memorable moment that really stands out to you after watching him for all these years?
Hole: Well, you're putting me on the spot there. Honestly, it's just the Ohio State game in general, because as someone in the media, it seems like we almost have a rivalry media versus media from Ann Arbor to Columbus. I just remember reading a lot of the stuff that my colleagues down there were saying. They thought that Aiden was going to be rendered essentially moot by what they thought was an incredible offensive line. They were saying, 'This is like the best offensive line Ohio State's had since their 2014 National Championship game.' And he goes out there and has three sacks and all at very crucial moments.
That's the- that's the big rival. He didn't shy away from talking about it being the big rivalry, and he went into that week saying, 'We're not scared of them; we're not going to bow down to them.' None of that. And then he went out there and did exactly kind of what he said. And ultimately, Ohio State's offensive line coach got fired. I mean, they were talking not even a couple weeks a week before the game, the whole week of the game. Well, that was a strength that that was not going to be an issue, that they were going to neutralize Aidan Hutchinson. Three sacks later, their offensive line coach is looking for a new job. I mean, that tells you a lot about his, his ability, his production.