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    Aidan Hutchinson vs. Kayvon Thibodeaux: Who is EDGE1 in the 2022 NFL Draft?

    Who is EDGE1 in the 2022 NFL Draft -- Kayvon Thibodeaux or Aidan Hutchinson? Let's see what the tape tells us and make a decision.

    Most believe that the best edge rusher in the 2022 NFL Draft is either Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux or Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson. If you spend time trying to come to a consensus on this issue, you will not succeed. The NFL Draft community is split, much like the very span of the draft cycle. Early on, it was Thibodeaux’s crown to lose. Now, Hutchinson is the favorite to go No. 1 overall.

    Does one deserve to be the clear choice above the other? Or is it a little more complicated than that? I don’t speak for everyone, but I can give you my take.

    Is Aidan Hutchinson or Kayvon Thibodeaux the top EDGE prospect in the 2022 NFL Draft?

    It’s no surprise that there’s a lacking consensus regarding the Thibodeaux-Hutchinson discourse. At its very root, draft evaluation is subjective. And that’s how it should be. There’s a danger that comes with being swept into the echo chamber with certain prospects. Blue-chip prospects draw hype for a reason, but that hype can build to a point where onlookers overlook very real flaws.

    Early on in the process, it felt like Thibodeaux’s stock was entangled in this echo chamber effect. Then, during the season, wherein Hutchinson embarked on a Heisman runner-up campaign, the Wolverine defender received the same treatment. Some prospects reach a point where they seem untouchable. But the truth is, no prospect is — not even the best.

    At this point, Hutchinson is too far along in the No. 1 pick discussion for it to be anyone else. But that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s most deserving of the pick.

    Now that we’re removed from the excitement of the regular season, let’s take an honest look back at the tape and see what separates Hutchinson and Thibodeaux. How do they compare, and which one deserves to be taken first?

    The case for Thibodeaux

    You hear about players with explosiveness — but Thibodeaux’s burst off the line is truly a tier above. Not only does the Oregon pass rusher cover an insane amount of ground off the snap, but he does so effortlessly, with the ease and grace of a gazelle. His initial burst allows him to quickly get a step on tackles, and once he gets around the edge, he hits a searing second gear in pursuit of the quarterback. He has a high motor through the rep as well.

    Just as enticing is Thibodeaux’s elite power capacity. He could be more consistent in exerting it at times, but Thibodeaux has rare power-generation ability with his elite explosiveness and 33 1/8″ arms.

    His combination of burst and length enables him to generate massive amounts of force at the contact point. He’s also very good at lowering himself and surging into his opponent’s pads with proper leverage.

    Thibodeaux’s explosiveness and power generation account for much of his production, but there’s more to his game than that. Thibodeaux is a very twitched-up athlete with great lateral agility and suddenness. He also has great play strength and can free himself from anchors. Beyond that, he’s flashed methodical hand usage, and he knows how to bait tackles into extending, so he can swipe and surge into the pocket.

    The case against Thibodeaux

    Thibodeaux’s rare acceleration strikes fear into opposing offensive tackles. And with his power capacity, he barrels over blockers. Even so, Thibodeaux isn’t yet at his peak. He is often referenced as having great bend. But upon a re-watch of the tape, Thibodeaux might be slightly more limited in that area than first anticipated.

    This isn’t to say that Thibodeaux has bad bend. He undoubtedly has good ankle flexion and has the torso flexibility to lean around the edge. But Thibodeaux’s hips are somewhat stiff. He struggles to roll his hips through the apex, and his immediate acceleration dies out more often than desired because of this. Thibodeaux has some shrinkage capacity, but he’s not elite there, and he can work on sustaining his leg drive and capitalizing with hands more often.

    In a similar vein, Thibodeaux’s hands can be more consistent. One can take solace in the fact that he actively shows awareness with his hand usage. He baits tackles and sets himself up with micro-movements.

    But there are times when he’s less creative and simply tries to win with his raw traits. He could do that against some collegiate opponents because his raw traits are outstanding. However, that won’t be sustainable in the NFL.

    The case for Hutchinson

    There might not be a more relentless player in the 2022 NFL Draft. It’s rare that motor stands out as an elite trait, but Hutchinson’s motor is truly never-ending. The Michigan edge rusher comes off the line with a ton of heat and brings ruthless energy into his pass-rushing reps. His energy only builds with each step he takes, and he can work tackles off-balance with his approaching twitch alone.

    Hutchinson checks the boxes as an athlete. He has the capacity for great acceleration off the line, with the lateral agility to shift gaps and capitalize on displacement. But more than that, Hutchinson’s hand usage is extremely promising. He can be a bit more precise at times, but he’s advanced for his age in terms of employing and stacking moves together. His hands are fast and violent, and he uses them to channel his high-level play strength and power.

    Hutchinson’s power output is maximized by his attacking mindset. Even with his bull rush, he has a number of different approaches that he uses to open up tackles and free the torso.

    For example, against Iowa, Hutchinson used a speed-bull combo. He took a couple of vertical steps outside to feign a speed rush, then surged inside with momentum, lowered his pads, and violently extended into his opponent’s torso, driving them back. Hutchinson still has room to improve with his hands, but he always brings an attack plan.

    The case against Hutchinson

    If you’re going to draft an edge rusher No. 1 overall, their physical profile needs to be near-elite. And while Hutchinson has plenty of the physical traits necessary to be a productive starter, he’s not quite at the No. 1 pick level — for several reasons.

    First and foremost, Hutchinson only has 32 1/8″ arms — below the preferred 33″ arm length threshold. He’s able to compensate with his strength and attacking mindset much of the time — especially with his power generation. But his below-average length can make it easier for tackles to get their hands on him. Against stronger, more athletic NFL tackles, he may find it harder to break anchors and stay clean.

    Going further, Hutchinson does not have elite bend. In fact, he’s more lacking than Thibodeaux here. Like Thibodeaux, Hutchinson struggles to roll his hips through the apex, and he too often locks up when trying to win around the edge.

    Hutchinson’s elite motor allows him to acquire second-effort sacks, but his hip stiffness may hurt his initial disruption in the NFL. He simply doesn’t shrink himself well, and he often plays too tall as a result. Hutchinson also doesn’t have the same explosiveness that Thibodeaux has off the snap.

    Who is EDGE1 — Hutchinson or Thibodeaux?

    Both Hutchinson and Thibodeaux are stellar NFL Draft prospects with bright futures. But for me, the answer is easy. Off of my pre-draft evaluation, Thibodeaux is EDGE1, and by a decent margin.

    If you’re looking for a reason why, just look to the traits. Thibodeaux has a higher ceiling than Hutchinson in almost every area. He’s more explosive, faster in pursuit, and has longer arms, along with a similarly dense frame. While neither player has elite bend, Thibodeaux is better there. Even though he could still be more consistent, he’s more natural when it comes to reducing his surface area and accelerating around the apex.

    Thibodeaux received a grade of 8.515 on my scale, which is in the early first-round territory. His raw traits boosted up his score, but even in weaker areas like hand usage, there’s enough on tape to warrant optimism.

    Aidan Hutchinson vs. Kayvon Thibodeaux: Who is EDGE1 in the 2022 NFL Draft?

    Hutchinson also cleared the first-round barrier, scoring a grade of 8.155. Yet, he scored lower than Thibodeaux in explosiveness, bend, power capacity, and pursuit speed. Hutchinson has more consistent hands and pass-rushing ability at this point, but it’s not a large enough difference to close the gap made by Thibodeaux’s traits.

    Aidan Hutchinson vs. Kayvon Thibodeaux: Who is EDGE1 in the 2022 NFL Draft?

    Hutchinson’s elite motor also helps him. And with questions looming surrounding Thibodeaux’s effort, some may be wondering why the gap isn’t higher there. Simply watching the tape, I thought Thibodeaux’s motor was strong. There were times when he faded at the end of plays, but he was already out of position. Off the line, he brings a ton of energy and is persistent in pursuit of the quarterback.

    Comparisons for Hutchinson and Thibodeaux

    Thibodeaux still has work to do before he reaches his maximum potential, but his ceiling is higher than Hutchinson’s. With his elite combination of explosiveness, length, and power capacity, he has a rare physical foundation. If he can keep working on maximizing his heavy hands, the sky is truly the limit.

    Purely off physical traits, Thibodeaux reminds me of four-time All-Pro DeMarcus Ware. The two players have similar frames and athletic profiles. Ware was an elite tester at the 2005 NFL Combine, with a 4.56 40-yard dash, a 38″ vertical, a 122″ broad, and 27 bench reps at 6’4″, 251 pounds. Thibodeaux, in 2022, came in at 6’4″, 254 pounds, ran a 4.58, and also logged 27 bench reps.

    On film, both players have elite explosiveness, not just off the line but also closing into the pocket. It was a trademark of Ware’s to engulf a QB like a tsunami wave once he got free, and Thibodeaux offers that same devastating impact with his meteoric closing burst and power. Ware was better at winning around the edge, but Thibodeaux can improve there. At his peak, he can have the same impact.

    It was difficult to find a comparison for Hutchinson, but I settled on former Falcons and Seahawks All-Pro Patrick Kerney. Hutchinson is a bit leaner and a bit more athletic. But like Hutchinson, Kerney was dense and powerful. He also had relatively stiff hips and lacked elite length. He compensated with strength, violent hands, and an all-out motor that never waned. And he carved out a successful career. Hutchinson can do the same.

    Why is Hutchinson the favorite to go No. 1?

    We’ve now established that both Hutchinson and Thibodeaux — while strong prospects — have their flaws. In my opinion, Hutchinson’s flaws are more limiting than Thibodeaux’s. So why is Hutchinson the favorite to go No. 1 overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars?

    Hutchinson’s motor is one of the key factors. While draft evaluation is a complex and detail-oriented process, front offices have a way of falling in love with prospects at times — and Hutchinson’s motor is the football equivalent of Cupid’s arrow. For old-school football minds, old-school qualities can be particularly enthralling, and Hutchinson’s motor fits the bill.

    It’s also worth noting that Hutchinson’s all-out motor isn’t a mislead. In a way, it gives him an element of security as a player. Even if he doesn’t have the same upside as Thibodeaux or his teammate David Ojabo, his motor acts as a failsafe. You know you’re getting no less than 110% from him on every down. Teams care about that.

    Even so, motor is a relatively constant trait among top draft prospects. While Hutchinson goes above and beyond, few early-round prospects lack in that department. The same can be said for Thibodeaux. While vague questions — lacking in proven substance — remain regarding Thibodeaux’s off-field character, the on-field evaluation makes it clear.

    Both players are phenomenal. But Thibodeaux is EDGE1.

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