INDIANAPOLIS – The projected top two pass rushers in this year's NFL Draft – Michigan's Aidan Hutchinson and Oregon's Kayvon Thibodeaux – met for the first time in Los Angeles a couple weeks ago while doing some media tours at the Super Bowl.
The two have been compared to one another all season while emerging as candidates for not only the No. 1 overall pick in April's draft, but also for the No. 2 spot belonging to Detroit. The Lions could certainly look to add a pass rusher at the top of this draft.
"He's a great player," Thibodeaux said of Hutchinson. "We're two different players, but he's a great player in his own right. I feel like we'll fit into two different systems. Me, I'm just trying to be the best me I can be. I don't even look to compare myself to anyone. As long as I stick to my plan and keep my head down and keep grinding, I'll be where I want to be when the time comes."
Thibodeaux (6-5, 258) comes across as a very cerebral player. He's big into chess and talked about how his speed sets up one counter move and then another. He's very much a student of the game.
He said one of his favorite players in the league is Von Miller. Miller, who has 111.5 career sacks and had two sacks in the Super Bowl, is one of the best speed-to-power rushers in the NFL. Thibodeaux's game does have some similarities there. He had 7.0 sacks and 12.0 tackles for loss in 10 games played for the Ducks last season. His speed jumps out, but he's got some power too.
So why does Thibodeaux think he's the best pass rusher in this class?
"My mindset," he said. "Not only do I have a great skillset and great athletic ability, but I'm hungry for knowledge. Not only do I watch film, and watch NFL film, but I steal it. Not only do I see it, but then I try to go implement it in practice, and I have confidence."
Hutchinson is a little bigger than Thibodeaux (6-6, 265), though the official measurements for defensive linemen will be released Saturday. Still, when watching Hutchinson, what really stands out is his power and his motor. He's big, physical and never stops. So many times he dominated tackles with power, and when he didn't, he cleaned up the mess caused by teammates because of his relentlessness.
"I think (Thibodeaux) will agree with me, I don't think there's any comparison (between us)," Hutchinson said. "I think we're both trying to be the best players we can be and whichever team picks us it is what it is. We control the control-ables and we move on."
Hutchinson said one of his favorite players in the NFL is Pittsburgh's T.J. Watt, who tied the NFL single-season record this past year with 22.5 sacks and has recorded double-digit sacks in four straight seasons. Hutchinson is a little bigger than Watt, but the motor comparisons definitely fit.
"I'm very confident in my ability," Hutchinson said Friday. "I know that whatever team picks me they are going to get a very good football player. I'm a very intuitive player and that comes with watching a lot of film. It was in me inherently. Kind of having that on the field allows me to make a lot of plays."
View photos of the quarterbacks at the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine.
Hutchinson is a little bit more scheme versatile than Thibodeaux because of his size, and is coming off a 2021 season in which he set the Michigan single-season sack record with 14.0 and was the Heisman Trophy runner up.
Hutchinson is considered the more pro ready rusher right now, but Thibodeaux could have a higher ceiling with his speed and athletic traits.
It will be really interesting to see the grades Lions general manager Brad Holmes dishes out to each player over the next few months leading up to the draft, and where they ultimately fall on Detroit's draft board.
The Lions are looking to bolster their pass rush after having the second lowest pass rush win rate in the NFL last season and the third fewest sacks.
Lions head coach Dan Campbell said his defense is going to utilize more four-down linemen fronts next year to take advantage of the pass-rush skills they think they have from their young interior guys. Pairing that with a hopefully healthy Romeo Okwara and potentially one of these elite edge rushers at No. 2 could go a long way in improving Detroit's defensive front next season.
But which one will it be if the Lions have their choice of either Hutchinson or Thibodeaux and are set on improving their pass rush at No. 2? Both players have a chance to separate themselves from the other beyond the tape starting Saturday when on-field testing for the defensive linemen starts here in Indianapolis.