Young Lions Talent Predicted as Dark Horse MVP Candidate

Dan Campbell

Getty Dan Campbell looks on during a Lions preseason game in 2021.

There hasn’t been a great deal of hope for fans of the Detroit Lions in recent years, but hope is exactly what rookie pass rusher Aiden Hutchinson represents.

Kevin Patra of NFL Network recently examined every franchise and came up with a list of each one’s most likely MVP candidate, excluding quarterbacks. Despite his rookie status, Hutchinson, the No. 2 overall pick out of the University of Michigan, was the player Patra identified on the Lions’ roster.

A rookie winning MVP? Laughable. Sure. Sure. Sure. But what if the homegrown talent dominates out of the gate, racking up sack after sack for a previously toothless Lions defense?

If Detroit is to go worst-to-first in the NFC North, the defense must be better, and that starts with Hutchinson having one of the greatest seasons in club history after setting the single-season Michigan sack record. Suppose the edge rusher blasts past the rookie sack record of 14.5, approaches the 20-sack mark and plays like a man possessed as the Lions stun the football world in Year 2 of a rebuild. Then does it sound so ridiculous?

Hutchinson Has Monster Potential as Edge Rusher in NFL

Aidan Hutchinson

GettyPass rusher Aidan Hutchinson poses onstage after being selected second by the Detroit Lions during round one of the 2022 NFL Draft on April 28, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)

The idea of Hutchinson producing an MVP caliber season is hard to internalize, even if he can muster the kind of output Patra outlined. But Rookie of the Year or Pro Bowl honors aren’t a stretch if Hutchinson is truly as good as advertised.

First-year pass rushers have had tremendous campaigns before, including as recently as last season. Dallas Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons racked up 13 sacks and 20 tackles for loss in 2021, while Bradley Chubb notched 12 sacks during his rookie season for the Denver Broncos just three years before, per StatMuse.

Hutchinson produced a monster stat line as a college senior at Michigan, sacking opposing quarterbacks 14 times and registering 16.5 tackles for loss, per Football Reference. His collegiate dominance should transfer exceptionally well to the NFL, particularly considering he will get four games against the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings in the NFC North, which is one of the league’s worst divisions.

Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus on Wednesday, July 6, dove into the biggest strengths and weaknesses of every NFC team. The Vikings’ biggest problem, per Monson, is their offensive line.

“Minnesota’s offensive line has had a lot of work and the tackles now look to be in a good place, but the interior still looks like a weakness on paper,” Monson wrote. “Ezra Cleveland has been solid as a run blocker at guard but has yet to finish a season with a PFF pass-blocking grade above 55.5, while Garrett Bradbury has averaged 27 pressures and almost seven penalties a season at center. Right guard has been a revolving door in recent seasons and is still there to be won by anybody showing quality play.”

Even with solid protection on the edge, the Lions’ pass rush should be able to disrupt Minnesota’s offensive front, allowing Hutchinson more leverage with which to operate.

As for Monson’s assessment of the Bears, he said that the team’s biggest strength is the running back position and its greatest weakness is “everything else,” which includes a suspect offensive line.

Hutchinson Could End up as Lions’ Best Player in 2022

Jared Goff

GettyQuarterback Jared Goff of the Detroit Lions warms up on the field prior to a game against the Chicago Bears at Ford Field on November 25, 2021 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images)

While no one is suggesting that the Lions faithful hold their breath waiting for Hutchinson to win MVP as a rookie, the possibility that he could be the most valuable player on his own team is not out of the question.

For several franchises, that distinction is reserved for the starting quarterback. But in Detroit, a lot would have to change from last season for that to be the case. Jared Goff came over in the trade that sent Matt Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams and a Super Bowl victory last year. Goff’s inaugural campaign with his new team was not nearly as successful.

Goff posted a win/loss record of 3-10-1 as the Lions’ starter, throwing for 3,425 yards to go along with 19 touchdowns and eight interceptions, per Pro Football Reference. With three years and more than $93 million remaining on his current contract, $15.5 million of which is guaranteed, Bleacher Report recently rated Goff as the second-most overpaid player in the NFL behind only tight end Taysom Hill of the New Orleans Saints.

If Detroit turns things around in 2022, it’s more likely to be because of a revamped defense led by Hutchinson than anything Goff might produce. That means Hutchinson has at least the chance to prove more valuable to Detroit’s success than the quarterback, or just about any other Lions player, early on and continue on an upward trajectory from there.

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