As far as first impressions go, they don't get much better than Aidan Hutchinson's.
Hutchinson, after being chosen No. 2 overall in the 2022 NFL Draft by his hometown Detroit Lions, proved every bit capable of being a game-wrecker by notching 9.5 sacks and terrorizing opposing quarterbacks 53 pressures.
"That dude's a stud," an NFC East scout told FanBuzz, on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly about Hutchinson. "Especially when you think about his motor and his savvy understanding of how to set up his rush moves and counters."
Hutchinson's vast skill-set helped power him to a second-place finish in Defensive Rookie of The Year voting, and his strong finish to the season — 4.0 sacks, 5 quarterback hits, 1 interception and 1 fumble recovery helped power the Lions to four wins over the final six weeks. Detroit held opponents to 19.5 points per game over that span, but thanks to an infusion of veteran talent such as safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson and rookies such as linebacker Jack Campbell and safety Brian Branch, expectations are much higher as the opener looms.
Fast forward to Thursday night, and Hutchinson is the face of a rebuilt Lions team that enters the 2023 season widely viewed as a team on the rise, perhaps capable of hosting its first home playoff game since 1993.
The first hurdle Hutchinson and the Lions must clear is the daunting challenge of containing reigning MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes and the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs, in the maelstrom known as Arrowhead Stadium, with the franchise's third Super Bowl banner being raised prior to kickoff.
If anyone is capable of planting the flag on national television and harassing Mahomes for 60 minutes, perhaps pressuring him into a crucial mistake that swings the pendulum of momentum in the Lions' favor, it's Hutchinson.
"I think there's a real chance you see him jump from 9.5 sacks to 12 this season," former NFL Executive of The Year Jeff Diamond told FanBuzz. "And you may see him make his first Pro Bowl. He plays with a consistently high motor, which all the greats at that position do, and on top of it, he has good quickness and athleticism for a defensive end."
Those closest to the 23-year-old tell FanBuzz they believe he has the potential to develop into one of the game's elite pass-rushers because of the way he plays the game above the shoulders, combining his instincts with a relentless effort that has the chance to show his rookie year was just scratching the surface.
Just ask Lions head coach Dan Campbell.
"He's taken it up a notch," Campbell recently told reporters. "That's what you want to see."
Only 19 players across the league surpassed Hutchinson's sack total as a rookie, his three interceptions ranked 28th, and his 80.7 overall grade from Pro Football Focus make him as the outlet's 21st-ranked edge defender in the league.
Campbell believes Hutchinson's encore has the chance to be significantly more dominant than his introduction to the league, and its quarterbacks and offensive tackles.
"I feel like he's got more in his toolbox and he was already a confident player, but you can just see has a ton of confidence," Campbell told reporters. "You see these tools coming out that have elevated his game, so he's got a counter move, he's got a spin, he's got a bull. He's violent shedding the run game. He sets an edge. He's a big man. He's got a high motor."
That high motor is a big reason why the Lions believe this season is the dawn of a new era for a pride that has embodied the hyper-competitive attitude of their head coach.
Thursday night, Hutchinson gets to remind the nation — and the rest of the league, what he's capable of. There are few grander stages than the prime time opener, against the gold standard at quarterback who all others are measured against.
Those inside the building rave about the Dearborn native's "ultra-competitiveness" but it is his work ethic and attention to detail that have elevated expectations both for Hutchinson's production and the Lions' outlook to heights unseen in the Motor City in at least three decades.
It's easy to see why Campbell, and evaluators throughout the Lions organization are so high on Hutchinson.
"They're going to be able to sustain a lot of success because of him," a veteran NFL executive told FanBuzz. "You might not see the ESPN highlights from Aidan, but they have a total home run on and off the field for the rest of his career. What you've seen, that's just setting the table for the rest of his career.
"You don't have to look any further than his work-ethic and consistency, but you take all of that with his shitload of skills, and you have something special."
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