The Detroit Lions hold the second overall pick in the 2022 NFL draft. While we are a long way off from the draft, it certainly appears that a pass rusher will be the likeliest choice come draft night. There are two pass rushers in the mix; Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson and Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux.
Many things are left to unfold before we cement things, so this is a very preliminary look. Free agency and the Combine are yet to occur, and I have not landed on where I rank these players. They are very different players with differing body types and sets of skills entering the NFL, but we will compare and contrast Hutchinson and Thibodeaux from an early perspective.
Hutchinson versus Thibodeaux, Pass Rushing
Both Hutchinson and Thibodeaux look excellent athletically. However, I’m going to give a slight edge to Thibodeaux here as he has a more explosive first step, and he can stress an offensive tackle differently than most. Offensive lineman must respect his ability to get the corner, and at times they will over-set because of his quickness. It opens the door for him to go back inside.
A look at Kayvon
Kayvon is more a speed rusher and can bend and flatten around an offensive tackle earlier than Hutchinson can. Thibodeaux can turn the corner around eight or nine yards, and it is more than impressive to see him rush the passer.
He accelerates through his first few steps and can threaten immediately with quickness. He also has impressive lateral movement ability and is tough to block. Because he can win with his foot speed, he is not using his hands much.
Thibodeaux looks to have two ways to win as a pass rusher. The first is just pure quickness and speed, and the other is through a bulrush when he tries to run through an offensive tackle. He must develop more moves and become more technical as a pass rusher, which means getting his hands involved as a pass rusher.
A Look at Hutchinson
Hutchinson can also win with speed, but he does not possess the first-step quickness to win as quickly, so he must utilize his hands, and he does this well. It is impressive to see him control an offensive lineman and then work through contact to pressure a passer.
I think Hutchinson will test exceptionally well at the Combine, but I’m not sure he plays as fast as he will test. There are mechanical and robotic-looking movements to his game. There are moments when he does not look smooth on the move, where you can see that he is a little stiff in his lower body.
He does not necessarily need to bend and flatten at eight or nine yards because his path (and the time it takes to get to the quarterback) is similar; Aiden is just doing it working through contact. He relies more on his physical power to lean and squeeze past an offensive lineman to win.
Hutchinson is more refined as a pass rusher entering the NFL, and he can win in various ways. He uses his hands better and is a more complete player right now. His ceiling may be a touch lower because he is pretty maxed out. This does not mean Hutchinson will not improve in the NFL because he will. It just means you are getting what you see, not what he can grow into and become.
Hutchinson versus Thibodeaux, Run Defense
The edge goes to Hutchinson here, and right now, it is not all that close. However, there is a lot of context required and work to do to understand all of it. We need to understand the scheme both played in to understand the “why” involved. That will take time, so let’s focus on what we can see now.
Thibodeaux vs The Run
There are reps with Thibodeaux where he looks passive and uninspired as a run defender. It almost comes off as lazy, and that sounds harsh. But it leads me to want to ask the Oregon staff what exactly they were asking out of Thibodeaux against the run. I’m working on trying and getting some answers there.
Thibodeaux does not use his hands well as a run defender, and at times he looks like he is too easy to block. Which is odd because he is a physical, strong player. To summarize, he can defend the run, he shows it at times, and Thibodeaux looks the part, but there are other moments when he seems too passive and somewhat okay with being uninvolved.
There are other times when you can see him track plays down using his elite quickness and speed. He can stop a running back from turning the corner to the far side, and he will take on pulling guards and stop them in their tracks. His evaluation as a run defender is hot and cold. However, if the Lions land on Thibodeaux, I can promise they will have resolved the issues with the “not playing hard against the run,” whatever they were.
Hutchinson vs The Run
Hutchinson is a very savvy defender. You can see him diagnose what an offense is trying to do, and you can see him recognize run versus the pass. Because he is so physical, he tends to set the edge well and does not get caught out of position.
Hutchinson seems to enjoy the physicality and gritty nature of playing against the run. From that perspective, I can see Lions head coach Dan Campbell taking a liking to his game. Hutchinson plays bigger than his size and is excellent against the run. He is a better run defender than pass rusher right now. That is a testament to his effort and how good he is against the run. Not a knock at his ability to rush the passer.
It boils down to how much risk a team is willing to take when looking at these two. Thibodeaux can become a more dangerous pass rusher in the NFL. He brings a layer of risk that Hutchinson does not. Thibodeaux has a higher ceiling than Hutchinson, but he is less versatile, and there is no guarantee he ever reaches his ceiling.
Hutchinson is the more complete player today. He will be productive against the run and the pass, and he should never come off the field. Hutchinson can play out of a two-point stance and with his hand in the dirt. He can help a defense in a variety of ways.
It’s almost that simple; Hutchinson might be considered safe with a higher floor and lower ceiling. Thibodeaux can be viewed as a higher ceiling and a lower floor player. An argument can be made for either player right now. It will be fascinating to see where the Lions land when the draft gets here.
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By StickPublished On: February 11th, 2022Categories: NFL