New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh said this week he did a lot of work in the pre-draft process on defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson.
"He's exactly what we thought he'd be," Saleh said Wednesday of Hutchinson. "High effort and relentless. He's got a tremendous skill set to him. He's doing a really nice job to have this kind of production as a rookie, and he still has four games left. Would not be surprised to see him get to double digits (sacks). We felt like he would be a perennial double digit sack guy. I don't think you ever expect it out of a rookie, but he's been fantastic."
Saleh and the Jets didn't get a chance to select Hutchinson with the No. 4 overall pick because the Lions took him No. 2 overall.
Hutchinson has 7.0 sacks and two interceptions through his first 13 games, joining Chargers defensive end Leslie O'Neal (1986) as the only players in NFL history with 7.0 sacks and two interceptions in their first 13 games.
The Jets did pretty well for themselves selecting cornerback Sauce Gardner out of Cincinnati at No. 4. Gardner is the favorite to win Rookie of the Year with a month left in the regular season, and has already become one of the top cornerbacks in football.
Lions head coach Dan Campbell said he watched a lot of tape on Gardner in the pre-draft process, but he was never really a candidate for them to select at No. 2. The Lions were looking to add a pass rusher there.
"I know that he's a heck of a football player," Campbell said Wednesday of Gardner. "We loved his length. We thought he was pretty smart and crafty. He was aggressive and runs pretty good. Obviously, his resume in college covering pretty good receivers was about as good as you can get. He fits perfect for that defense. He'd fit perfect in just about any defense, but he's really grown. He's become a pretty dang good corner out there."
Teams are completing just 44.1 percent of their passes thrown Gardner's way and have a 48.8 passer rating when challenging him. Gardner has allowed just six receptions for 28 yards in man coverage this season. He ranks in the top five in the league in receptions allowed, yards allowed, passes defended and completion percentage.
Both the Lions and Jets have to be pretty happy with their top picks in this year's draft. Gardner and Hutchinson are the two favorites for Rookie of the Year.
Who will have the bigger impact Sunday when Hutchinson and the Lions travel to New York to take on Gardner's Jets in a critical December matchup for both clubs?
Campbell changed up the team's schedule a bit Wednesday. The team had an afternoon walkthrough instead of a normal morning practice.
"Felt like this was the right time to cycle down this week," Campbell said. "We've been doing things a certain way for a number of weeks, and this is the time to change it up. I already had this in my head. We felt like this was the right time to pull back on Wednesday and really hit the mental and then we're going to come back and be a little extended tomorrow and really push the intensity."
GOFF AIR PLAYER OF WEEK
Quarterback Jared Goff was named the FedEx Air Player for Week 14.
Goff completed 26-of-37 passes for 330 yards and three touchdowns in the Lions' win over the Minnesota Vikings last week. He beat out Minnesota's Kirk Cousins and Philadelphia's Jalen Hurts to earn his second FedEx Air Player of Week award (Week 4) this season.
STRENGTH ON STRENGTH
Campbell likened Sunday's matchup against the Jets to a heavyweight fight against a quality opponent. On paper it certainly looks to be a terrific matchup of strength on strength pitting an explosive Lions' offense against a stingy Jets' defense.
Detroit currently ranks in the top seven in the NFL in points scored (5th), total offense (4th) and passing offense (7th).
Those numbers will be tested this week against the best defense they've faced all season in the Jets. New York's defense ranks sixth in points per game allowed (18.7), third in total defense (301.2) and fourth against the pass (189.4).
"They are aggressive and they're very disruptive, especially that front," Campbell said of New York's defense. "They have physical safeties. The corners will challenge you. This is a defense that makes you earn anything you can get. So, our offense, we've got our work cut out. It the strength of this (Jets) team."
This will be the 15th time the Lions and Jets face off in their history. The all-time series record stands at 7-7.