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Aidan Hutchinson’s 2020 season had barely gotten started when it abruptly ended. The junior outside linebacker suffered a broken ankle against Indiana that required surgery. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Big Ten did not start its season until October after initially canceling it altogether. In the end, Hutchinson had appeared in just three games, recorded nine tackles, no sacks and no tackles for loss. For a player hoping to make the NFL leap, there was not much positive momentum.
Still, there was some draft buzz surrounding Hutchinson. If memory serves, he was projected to go somewhere in the mid-to-late second round. Perhaps if he hadn’t hurt his ankle, he would’ve finished a bit stronger. A chance to test at the combine could have secured himself in that middle part of the second round. Even with the injury, Jim Nagy thought he would have been a Day 2 pick in June of 2021.
At this point, we all know what happened instead. Hutchinson underwent surgery on his leg, returned to school and finished as the runner up for the Heisman as Michigan made its first ever appearance in the College Football Playoff. He posted 14 sacks, 16 tackles for loss and forced two fumbles. He wound up being the No. 2 overall pick in the 2022 NFL draft and will suit up for his hometown team this season.
We’ve seen it happen so many times before where a player is on the cusp of reaching the league, but an injury sends them back to school and their draft stock drops significantly. Hutchinson clearly bucked that trend, and that was not lost on him.
“I did have an opportunity to leave my junior year,” Hutchinson said in an interview with ESPN Radio’s Spain & Fitz. “That injury was the greatest blessing that happened to me in my life.”
It turned out that the injury ended up making Hutchinson about $30 million dollars. That’s right, the injury made him money, not lost him. It’s hard to know exactly where he would have been selected in 2021 had he come out, but make some assumptions and take a look at the finances.
If we assume that Nagy was right with his projected draft range, which he often is, Hutchinson could have come off the board instead of Dayo Odeyingbo in the second round. The Colts took the Vanderbilt defensive end coming off a torn Achilles, so I can’t imagine that a broken ankle alone would have prevented the front office from taking Hutchinson.
Odeyingbo signed a four-year deal worth roughly $6.17 million. According to Spotrac, about $2.8 million of that was guaranteed. Under the assumption above, that’s approximately what Hutchinson was in line for as far as contract compensation goes had he come out in 2021.
Instead, Hutchinson’s stellar senior season propelled him to the second pick in the draft and he cashed in. Hutchinson signed his rookie deal with the Lions on Monday for $35.7 million, including a $23.1 million signing bonus. By the way, that deal is fully guaranteed. That’s a difference of $29.5 million. He will be paid $23.8 million in cash this year, which is the second most in the entire league among defensive ends, second only to Travon Walker, who went No. 1 overall. Danielle Hunter is third at $19.7 million. Odeyingbo ranked 53rd among defensive ends last year. He ranks 106th this year.
That’s a staggering difference. And that’s just a rough estimate of the difference because Hutchinson could have slid even further if he was unable to participate fully in the pre draft process, including the combine and his pro day. Maybe teams would have knocked him for a lack of production. He only had 4.5 sacks during his 2019 season and didn’t record one in 2020 before he got injured.
It was a miraculous year for Hutchinson and I have no doubt his talent would have eventually won out. That being said, this is a truly unusual situation and it is nice to see an injury lead to something positive for once. Way too often, we see injuries derail careers. Hopefully, we will get more stories like Hutchinson’s in the future.
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