There hasn’t been much hope for Detroit Lions fans in recent years, but hope is exactly what rookie pass rusher Aiden Hutchinson represents.
NFL Network’s Kevin Patra recently researched each franchise and compiled a list of the most likely MVP candidates, excluding quarterbacks. Despite his rookie status, the University of Michigan No. 2 overall Hutchinson was the player Patra identified on the Lions’ roster.
The idea of Hutchinson producing an MVP season is hard to grasp, even if he can pull off the kind of performance Patra has outlined. But Rookie of the Year or Pro Bowl honors aren’t far-fetched if Hutchinson really is as good as advertised.
First-year pass rushers have had massive campaigns before, including just last season. Dallas Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons amassed 13 sacks and 20 tackles for the loss in 2021, while Bradley Chubb had 12 sacks in his rookie season for the Denver Broncos just three years earlier, according to StatMuse.
Hutchinson produced a monster stat as a collegiate senior at Michigan, firing 14 times opposing quarterbacks and registering 16.5 tackles for losses, per Football Reference. His collegiate dominance should translate exceptionally well to the NFL, especially considering he’ll play four games against the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings in the NFC North, one of the league’s worst divisions.
Pro Football Focus’ Sam Monson addressed the top strengths and weaknesses of each NFC team on Wednesday, July 6th. The Vikings’ biggest problem, according to Monson, is their offensive line.
“Minnesota’s offensive line has had a lot of work and tackles appear to be in a good place now, but the inside still looks like a weakness on paper,” Monson wrote. “Ezra Cleveland has been a solid run blocker at guard but has yet to finish a season with a PFF pass blocking score of over 55.5, while Garrett Bradbury has averaged 27 pressure points and nearly seven penalties per season at center. Right guard has been a revolving door in recent seasons and can still be won by anyone who shows quality play.
Even with solid protection on the perimeter, the Lions’ pass rush should be able to disrupt Minnesota’s offensive line, giving Hutchinson more clout to operate with.
As for Monson’s assessment of the Bears, he said the team’s greatest strength is running back position and its greatest weakness is “everything else,” including a suspect offensive line.
While no one is suggesting that Lions faithful hold their breath waiting for Hutchinson to become the rookie MVP, the possibility that he could be the most valuable player on his own team isn’t ruled out.
With several franchises, this distinction is reserved for the starting quarterback. But for that, a lot would have to change in Detroit compared to last season. Jared Goff came into the trade sending Matt Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams and a Super Bowl win last year. Goff’s inaugural campaign with his new team was not nearly as successful.
As the Lions’ starter, Goff posted a win/loss record of 3-10-1 and threw for 3,425 yards accompanied by 19 touchdowns and eight interceptions, according to the Pro Football Reference. With three years and more than $93 million remaining on his current contract, of which $15.5 million is guaranteed, Bleacher Report recently ranked Goff as the second most overpaid player in the NFL, behind only narrow Taysom Hill from the New Orleans Saints.
If Detroit turns things around in 2022, it’s more likely to be due to an overhauled defense led by Hutchinson than anything Goff could produce. That means Hutchinson at least has a chance to prove more valuable to Detroit’s success early on than the quarterback or just about any other Lions player and continue his upward trend from there.