Michigan Wolverines Football: Aidan Hutchinson 'One Of The Best Defensive Linemen' In The Country
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Aidan Hutchinson 'One Of The Best Defensive Linemen' In The Country

PFF released its rankings of the top 10 returning college football players at each position, and unsurprisingly, Michigan Wolverines Aidan Hutchinson made the cut, checking in at No. 4 in the ‘edge defender’ category. The rankings have 'nothing to do with pro potential,' according to PFF, but Hutchinson is receiving plenty of praise in NFL mock drafts as well.

The players to rank ahead of Hutchinson were, in order: Oklahoma's Nik Bonitto, Oregon's Kayvon Thibodeaux and Texas A&M's DeMarvin Leal. Rounding out the list were Cincinnati's Myjai Sanders (5), Alabama's Will Anderson Jr. (6), Washington's Zion Tupuola-Fetui (7), Appalachian State's Demetrius Taylor (8), Ohio State's Tyreke Smith (9) and Florida's Brenton Cox Jr. (10). That makes Hutchinson PFF's top returning Big Ten edge defender, with Smith being the only other player from the conference to appear on the list.

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Michigan Wolverines football junior edge defender Aidan Hutchinson was able to participate in some drills during spring ball, after injuring his ankle last season.
Michigan Wolverines football junior edge defender Aidan Hutchinson was able to participate in some drills during spring ball, after injuring his ankle last season. (USA TODAY Sports Images)

Last August, PFF actually ranked Hutchinson as the fourth-best 2021 NFL Draft prospect at his position heading into the 2020 campaign — ahead of former teammate Kwity Paye, who checked in at No. 6 — but he didn't have the type of season he would've liked, with injuries being a major reason why.

Despite registering 15 tackles and two quarterback hurries, with no tackles for loss or sacks, PFF's Anthony Treash saw some good things. He was close on some pass rushes, and the sample size was too small to judge much off the stats. Couple that with the fact that Hutchinson had a monster 2019 campaign in which he recorded 68 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, six pass breakups, four quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles, and there is enough there for an analyst

"Hutchinson played only three games in 2020 before suffering a season-ending injury, but the Wolverine seemed to be on his way to taking that next step forward on his mere 149 snaps (82.5 PFF grade)," Treash explained. "With a clean bill of health, he is quite easily one of the best all-around defensive linemen in college football.

"The 6-foot-6, 269-pounder is versatile, has incredible power behind his hands and is one of the more polished players at the position. For proof, look at his 2019 outing against Iowa when he became one of the few to post wins against 2020 Super Bowl champion Tristan Wirfs.

"Hutchinson produced an 83.6 run-defense grade and 27 run stops along with a 76.0 pass-rush grade and 46 total pressures in 2019. Still, he never really put together a dominant performance from start to finish in 2019 like others on this list. Still, Hutchinson was consistently good throughout the year. We need to see more elite outings in 2021, and he easily has the potential to make that happen."

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With Paye now off to the NFL, having been picked by the Indianapolis Colts with the No. 21 overall pick in the first round, more responsibility — and attention from opposing offenses — will be on the shoulders of Hutchinson, who decided last winter to return for at least one more season in a winged helmet.

In addition, the defensive ends, where Hutchinson and Paye played under former defensive coordinator Don Brown, have been converted into stand-up edge rushers / outside linebackers under new coordinator Mike Macdonald, who has transformed the unit into a 3-4 defense (though it will present multiple formations, he says).

"It fits them. I think they’re excited about it and learning those news positions," head coach Jim Harbaugh said of the new role on the In The Trenches podcast recently.

Harbaugh has been impressed with Hutchinson's leadership, as well, even though he wasn't 100 percent healthy during spring practices.

"It’s what you expect, what we’ve always seen here at Michigan," Harbaugh said. "I go back to my days and think of the guys that were like that — truly talented players that had a work ethic that was extraordinary to go with that talent. The talent and the effort were at the elite level — both.

"Anybody that’s ever played at Michigan or had a teammate that was all in for the team and leading by example and doing everything in his power to get as good at football and have the rest of the team get as good at football and do everything right, — that’s Aidan Hutchinson."

This coming season is a huge one for Michigan football, after a tough 2020 campaign, and it's significant for Hutchinson in his own right, too.

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