Mel Kiper names Aidan Hutchinson No. 1 player on NFL draft board
December 9, 2021
Michigan defensive outpaces Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux
ESPN chief NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper has placed Aidan Hutchinson as the number one player on his NFL draft board. Kiper hailed the Michigan defensive's superb performance that earned him an invitation to New York City, dubbing it “unreal down the stretch”. Kiper believed that Hutchinson's Heisman Trophy candidacy proved it.
“Since I last updated my rankings, he has doubled his sack total,” Kiper wrote on ESPN.com. “He now has 14 and two forced fumbles, showing powerful moves and relentless pursuit of quarterbacks.”
Kiper used Hutchinson’s three-sack, seven-tackle game against Ohio State as an example that he was a player who could "dominate" the enemy's offensive line.
“It’s going to be a real battle between Hutchinson and [Kayvon] Thibodeaux for the No. 1 pick,” Kiper added.
While the jump was hardly a surprise for local Michigan fans, it might be for someone else. Oregon’s Thibodeaux became everyone's favorite when he entered the 2021 season after a breakout freshman season in 2019 when he recorded nine sacks, forced a fumble, and totaled 35 tackles.
While he was a productive player in 2021 with 49 tackles, seven sacks, two forced fumbles, however, his progress was hindered by an ankle injury that saw him being sidelined for three games. Therefore, Hutchinson was allowed to outpace Thibodeaux in almost every statistical category. Hutchinson recorded 14 sacks while also setting a record as well as added 10 quarterback pressures and two forced fumbles.
Many of Hutchinson’s memorable moments also came in big fights, including in the wins over Penn State and Ohio State as well as against Iowa in the Big Ten championship. He is just more visible thanks to the Wolverines’ incredible run to the College Football Playoff.
Additionally, Kiper has not been the only draft analyst believing Hutchinson a the No. 1 player. Dane Brugler of The Athletic also placed Hutchinson above Thibodeaux in the 2022 NFL Draft, insisting that Hutchinson “checks every box for the [Detroit] Lions”, the team he believed would land the first pick.
The 6-foot-6, 265-pound edge rusher also won the Lombardi Award on Wednesday, beating Texas A&M offensive lineman Kenyon Green, Iowa State linebacker Mike Rose, and Iowa center's Tyler Linderbaum.
“None of my success on that field — he talked about the broken records, but I can’t break any of those records without my teammates doing their jobs on every single one of those plays,” Hutchinson said in his acceptance speech. “I couldn’t be more grateful for them and proud they’re doing their jobs and I’m receiving the fruits from it.”
Not the only one moving up
Hutchinson was not the only Michigan player that managed to climb up the ladder of Kiper’s draft board this week. Outside linebacker David Ojabo also jumped from No. 10 to No. 9 on the list. His chances of becoming a first-round NFL pick this April have now been improved.
“Ojabo has been one of the most impressive newcomers in the country,” Kiper wrote, adding: “He has flashed advanced pass-rush moves” and “his traits pop on tape.”
“While Ojabo needs to work on his all-around game, there’s a lot to like. He’s still young; he could develop into an elite edge rusher.”