A former All-American defensive end at Michigan, Hutchinson finished his rookie season with 9.5 sacks — the most among rookies — three interceptions, two fumble recoveries and 52 total tackles.
After finishing second in the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year voting behind New York Jets cornerback Sauce Gardner, he returns for Year 2 amid heightened expectations for the Lions, who hope to deliver Detroit its first Super Bowl.
In his own words, Hutchinson told ESPN Lions reporter Eric Woodyard about the pressure that comes with being the hometown hero, beating quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the his final game with the Packers, his unlikely relationship with Michael Strahan, Detroit’s rollercoaster 2022 and expectations for 2023 and beyond.
I’D BE LYING if I didn’t say there wasn’t any additional pressure being a hometown kid playing for the hometown team, because there is.
That comes with the position of being a high draft pick and being where you grew up.
But I’ve always dealt with the pressure and expectations in a good way. A lot of that comes from blocking out the outside noise, which is really important. And if you want to take that next step in your career, you’re not gonna get any clarification from the outside world. In my experience, you’ve got to go to the people you trust when times get a little hard.
Walking into Game 1 against Philly and seeing so many No. 97 jerseys was eye-opening. When you’re in college, they don’t really make those and you don’t have your own personalized number.
Now when I walk into Ford Field and see 97s everywhere, of course I feel expectations and some added pressure to perform at my best. But I trust in my approach, the way I handle it and the way my family — and Michigan — raised me, and the way I deal with things, it kind of offsets each other.
I had a unique experience being in the draft position that I was in. The whole draft process, I knew it was either Jacksonville or Detroit (the teams with the first two overall picks).
I was pretty content if we went to Florida because we’d be in the sun and we’d be good and we’d be getting tanned with some great weather, but really, I envisioned being in Detroit. My family’s here, I have so many people here and I grew up with some not-so-great Lions teams, and I wanted to be a part of a team with a culture that shifted things.
A lot of people don’t believe me when I say I wanted to go to Detroit when there were options like Florida and other great football cities around the country, but I love the cold… Well, I don’t love the gloomy days, but I can bear them. But Detroit is the spot I always wanted to be. Even if that meant falling a spot in the draft, it was all worth it.
It’s a big accolade when you can say you went No. 1 overall in the draft. But in the end, it’s also something that’s out of my control. Jacksonville passed on me. It is what it is, and I have this opportunity now with Detroit.
Staying at home is the added bonus and blessing I am thankful for daily. Obviously, a lot of guys dream of the No. 1 overall pick title, but at the end of the day, as long as you’re in the right spot with the right people, I’m more concerned about longevity than where I was taken in the draft. So, that’s always been more of my concern — the long run.
ONCE THE SEASON started, things didn’t start out how we’d hoped.
The lowest point came right before the bye week — when we played the New England Patriots and lost a tough one, 29-0. But even in some of those games before, like the Seattle game (a 48-45 Lions loss), man, it’s just sometimes you’re out there and it’s tough.
After Week 6 bye, we made some schematic changes and I could stand up in my stance. That was something that I really loved to do and I was really passionate about since I started standing up my senior year at Michigan. After the bye, I was feeling great.
Sure, those first few games were rough. As an individual, you want to do more and you want to perform better. But I think after that bye, after some changes were made, I felt like I was just playing at a much higher level.
When the team turned things around, that’s when I realized how much fun winning is in the NFL.
When you’re losing, that’s when you see the business side of things — with coaches getting fired, players getting cut, changes getting made every week — and when we’re flowing, we’re winning ball games, all those little mistakes that you made previously kind of go away. Everyone’s happy around the building, it’s good vibes on Victory Monday.
It’s just the NFL, man. It’s hard to win and when you get those wins, you’ve got to soak them up, no matter who you’re playing against, no matter what your opponent’s record is, if you get that dub at the end of the day, that’s all that matters.
One of the cool things so far also has been building relationships with former greats of the game. When I was on my pre-draft visits, one of them was to the New York Giants, and I met Michael Strahan and we had this great talk. We probably talked for about a half hour, just about ball and expectations and dealing with the sacks and all the intricate details that comes with being a defensive end.
We stay in touch a bit and I am thankful for the guidance and feedback Michael has provided. Even after games, I’ll have a good game and he’ll reach out. He shot me a text after our game against Dallas in Week 7 and it was one of those cool moments to have a guy that I grew up watching and who was such a savage to be texting me to congratulate me. It’s good to have that relationship because he’s very down to earth and I feel like we have similar mindsets when it comes to different aspects of football.
Another guy I obviously grew up watching was Aaron Rodgers. Being a part of that Sunday night game against the Packers to the end of the season — and also getting a couple sacks and having a productive game — and it being at Lambeau Field, man, it felt great.
It was such a special feeling but a little bittersweet, too. We felt like we’re one of the top teams in the league, but we just weren’t consistent all season long. I thought we were rolling so well by the end of the year that we would’ve been dangerous in the playoffs. So it was a little bittersweet to not have a chance at the postseason with that win. But beating Rodgers in his last game at Lambeau and being a part of that history was special.
After the way we closed out the season and ended it against the Packers, there’s a lot of hype about us right now and I love it.
I think a little hype is good for the boys because we haven’t had that in a long time. Our goal is to win a Super Bowl, but now it feels a little more realistic. It feels like it’s in reach.
I’m so motivated by the thought of being a part of a playoff run for my hometown team. I think about it every day.
I mean, I take time to think about it every day because I think Detroit’s been dying for a Super Bowl and I know for the team to do that — or any team in the future that I’m on — it’s going to be a riot.
I want to be a part of the team that finally did it.
— Aidan Hutchinson (@aidanhutch97) February 11, 2023
I TELL HIM this all the time, but Jared Goff reminds me of one of my close childhood friends.
When we first met, it’s like he was a mirror image of one of the guys and I thought, “dude this is so bizarre.” From the second we met, we were vibing and even when we were together at the NFL Honors ceremony, me and Jared just have really always got along. I feel like our energies have really just always meshed and it’s never been anything forced.
Jared is laid back, but I’ve sat in on a couple of his quarterback meetings. I’ll walk in there sometimes, and just hear him talk and he’s dialed in. Jared is a laid back, California surfer dude but he exudes quiet confidence and leadership — he gets it. I was in those meetings. He was great. I’m looking forward to having another year with him and it’s going to be a lot of fun.
[Lions GM] Brad Holmes has talked in a couple team meetings, and at other times, and he’s very knowledgeable — a lead by example kind of guy. You feel like you just can trust him. I’ve never met him before this, but he’s a guy that when he talks and when you’re around, you feel like this guy is making the right moves and we can all trust him. He’s a little more soft-spoken, but his word carries.
And then [coach] Dan [Campbell], when you go to any of his team meetings it’s so intense every time. But of course he always keeps it light-hearted by cracking a joke or two. That’s what you get when you have a coach who is a former player because he gets it. He knows what it’s like to be in the dog days of the season and you’ve just got to keep it sometimes light and keep the vibes up and Dan is definitely that guy. He knows what to say in the right moments. I thought he did a great job of that last year.
There’s always going to be doubters, of course. But I think the proof is in the pudding when you look at the entire roster.
Obviously, you can have a great team and you’ve still got to win those ball games, you’ve still got to put in the work and that’s what we’re going to do. I know some people still have their doubts, but we’ll prove them wrong like we always do.