Aidan Hutchinson and Kayvon Thibodeaux are the consensus best defensive players in this upcoming draft class and are both widely considered favorites to be the top overall pick. Both Hutchinson and Thibodeaux play a premier position at defensive end, the most valuable position on defense. Let’s dive into what makes them so great, and if there is any separation between the pair.
Both of these guys are absolutely freak athletes. Hutchinson is 6’6 and runs a 4.64 40-yard dash – which is unheard of for his size. Hutchinson has great hands, burst around the edge, and a relentless motor. He timed a 6.54 second 3-cone drill time, which is faster than any player logged at the 2020 NFL Combine.
His vertical jump of 36 inches and 4.07 second shuttle time are also shocking for his size. For context, both of those numbers are better than those of Micah Parsons – reigning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Thibodeaux is the more talented of the pair, however. Thibodeaux’s potential has always been considered astronomical, primarily because of his speed-rushing ability at the height of 6’5. While he is still raw with his pass rush moves, Thibodeaux’s speed gives him an elite, uncoachable trait.
He is expected to run the 40-yard dash in around 4.5 seconds. It is extremely rare for a defensive lineman to have this type of speed and explosiveness. His agility is elite and he possesses rare range and bend with superb change-of-direction ability. The slight talent edge goes to Thibodeaux, but both of them are clearly supremely athletic.
Perhaps the most significant edge in any of these categories is in the production facet. Hutchinson clearly outproduced Thibodeaux in college, especially in 2021. Hutchinson was the best defensive player in the nation this past season, carrying the Michigan defense on his back to a College Football Playoff appearance. As the national spotlight grew every week, Hutchinson only improved.
He had his best game against Ohio State when Michigan’s playoff hopes were on the line. Hutchinson had 14 sacks this past season. He was top 3 in the nation in sacks, pressures, and hurries this season, while also being one of the best-run defenders in the country. Hutchinson’s production was unmatched.
Thibodeaux’s college career at Oregon didn’t go completely as planned. From the day he committed to the school as the #1 prospect in the country, the expectations were sky-high. His freshman season was great, living up to the expectations. His sophomore season was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic and can be considered a throwaway.
His junior season showed flashes, but Thibodeaux never showed his dominance on a weekly basis. It felt as if he was preparing to leave for the draft by midseason. Thibodeaux had 9 sacks his freshman season in 2019 and 7 in 2021. He had a quality career at Oregon, but he was never truly the player he was expected to be.
Hutchinson’s leadership ability and competitiveness are unquestioned. Watch any of his games from this season, and his relentlessness will stand out. He never gives up on a play and gets stronger as the game goes along. He was the clear leader of the Michigan team this season, spearheading the revival of the program. Hutchinson is definitely the type of player you want in your locker room.
Thibodeaux plays with a passion that jumps off the screen. He is a philanthropist off the field, with hopes of opening up a charter school one day. Hutchinson’s leadership clearly stood out more on a national stage this season, but both of these guys would be positive additions to any locker room.
Pass Rush Moves
Hutchinson is the more polished pass rusher by a wide margin. Hutchinson mastered the spin move at Michigan and his hand placement was as good as it gets for a college player.
Thibodeaux lacks a bit in this area. At times it looks like he is just trying to speed past offensive linemen on tape. He lacks savviness, but that can be easily refined in the pros. This is consistent with the fact that Hutchinson has the higher floor, but Thibodeaux has the higher ceiling.
One important factor to point out is that Hutchinson is a senior, while Thibodeaux is a junior. This stands out because there has not been a senior defensive end taken in the top 3 since Dion Jordan in 2013. Hutchinson also did not really burst onto the scene as a top prospect until his senior year, but injuries played a role in that.
I think the age factor is a little overblown, but it just adds the point that Hutchinson’s floor is higher and Thibodeaux’s ceiling is. Being a year younger favors Thibodeaux’s potential and gives him more time to develop.
In addition, they both have some injury concerns to point out. Hutchinson missed most of his junior season in 2020 due to a broken leg. Thibodeaux missed 3 games in 2021 due to an ankle injury, but this was more of a minor issue.
All in all, both of these players have extremely bright futures in the NFL. Thibodeaux’s upside seems to be a bit higher, but Hutchinson’s ceiling is not far behind. Hutchinson is the safer pick with established pass rush moves, supreme talent, and the production track record. It would be stunning if Hutchinson is anything less than a high-quality player at the next level.
Thibodeaux has more room to grow, but there is volatility involved in that. I would give the edge to Hutchinson, but it is not a significant difference. Hutchinson is the less risky proposition, with a comparable ceiling. Thibodeaux is more explosive with more potential, but his floor is much lower than Hutchinson’s.
At the end of the day, you can’t go wrong with either selection, and both of these players will make some team very happy moving forward.
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