LAS VEGAS — At some point during his development into a premier college defensive end headed to being a top during Thursday night’s NFL draft, someone decided Aidan Hutchinson is productive because he merely tries hard.
He’s got a great motor, the narrative was established.
He’s really polished, the narrative continued.
He’s really productive at the University of Michigan, collecting 14 sacks in 2021, because he’s been really smart to process his coaching and translate all the technique he’s learned onto the field.
The narrative on Hutchinson has never been he’s an elite athlete.
“I agree that people don’t classify me as a high-ceiling player but as a motor guy,” Hutchinson said Wednesday, mere hours before he is selected in the first round. “I’ve had that label for a while now and it’s hard to break the label, but if you look at my combine, I’m top of the line in a lot of those drills.
“I think I’m extremely athletic and I think I haven’t even touched my ceiling yet as a player. They want to say I have a low ceiling because I had a 14-sack season but I think I’m just starting to get the hang of this thing.”
The metrics measuring Hutchinson’s athletic ability — which you’ll see in a moment — and even experts on the NFL draft, disagree with how people “classify” Hutchinson. But it bothers Hutchinson that he hasn’t been able to shake it.
“It is weird,” he said. “It feels like a negative connotation to me because you call me a motor guy and it kind of pisses me off. But it’s OK, it’s OK, people have been saying that about me for a while.”
So the question is why do people see Hutchinson, at 6-foot-7 and 260 pounds, and decide he’s productive for reasons that don’t have everything to do with his athletic prowess?
“I’m not going to get into the details,” Hutchinson said. “I could tell you why, but it’s just kind of it is what it is. And, you know.
“You look at my combine and look at what I’ve done on the field, I’m extremely athletic and I do have that high ceiling. But people will say what they want to say. They like to create their own narrative about me.”
Hutchinson didn’t want to get into the details so it’s impossible to know where he was going with that, but one NFL scout said it’s as simple as racial profiling. Hutchinson is white.
“Didn’t you see the movie?” the veteran scout said. “White men can’t jump. You hear it, not as often as in the past, but the so-called jokes are still out there and whispered even among people in my business — white guys can’t play cornerback, they don’t have long enough arms to play end, they’re not as athletic.
“And, you need to make the point, that stuff goes both ways, still. That narrative you’re talking about applies to black players in positions that require more processing of information like, of course, quarterback. All that’s still out there, buddy.”
Let’s call it what it is: This prejudiced view of people in either race is not new and lingers even when it is disproven. Just take Hutchinson himself as an example:
At the NFL Combine in February Hutchinson proved he’s very athletic. He posted a 6.73-second time in the 3-cone drill, the fastest time by any defensive lineman over 6-foot-5 at the combine since 2003, according to Next Gen Stats.
Georgia defensive lineman Travon Walker is expected by some NFL people to be the first overall selection to the Jacksonville Jaguars, in part, because he is an elite athlete. And his 4.51 time in the 40-yard dash is amazing at 6-5 and 272 pounds.
Hutchinson ran a 4.74 in the 40 but also had a 36 inch vertical leap compared to Walker’s 35.5. And Hutchinson had a better time in the 3-cone and 20-yard shuttle.
The numbers suggest he’s athletic, also. And it flies in the face of the argument that Hutchinson cannot get better as a pro because his production is based mostly on coaching and technique, which is already mostly maximized.
“I’ve heard that argument which I think is terrible,” said Stanford coach David Shaw. “Because the guy is really, really good, you don’t think he has a high ceiling? I think he’s really good and has a high ceiling.
“If he doesn’t get any better, he’s borderline Pro Bowl right now, in my opinion. And there’s a lot of guys in the NFL that don’t have his length. This guy’s 6-7, people forget this. He’s not 6-3. He’s 6-7 and he’s long, and aggressive, and mean, and fast. And so I think this guy has a chance to be an impact player right away. As he continues to grow and get better.”
After living with it for some time, the whole issue has grown a bit tiresome to Hutchinson.
“I’m used to it at this point,” he said. “I don’t know if it was my dad [former Michigan player Chris Hutchinson] because he was a high motor guy and I’m his son so it was somehow inherently passed. That narrative was inherently passed to me.
“It is what it is … I don’t even care at this point. The team that takes me is going to get a whole ballplayer.”
Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero