Lions’ Aidan Hutchinson making an argument for Bears to draft a DE

Hutchinson has been promising enough in his rookie season that even Justin Fields, an Ohio State alum, was comfortable giving credit to the Michigan man.

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Lions defensive end Aidan Hutchinson takes the field earlier this month,

Lions defensive end Aidan Hutchinson takes the field earlier this month,

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Lions defensive end Aidan Hutchinson has been promising enough in his rookie season that even Bears quarterback Justin Fields, an Ohio State alum, was comfortable giving credit to the Michigan man.

“I think earlier in the year he was a raw rookie, but now he’s starting to figure it out a little bit,” Fields said Wednesday. “I think he has definitely improved from week to week. He’s a good player, plays with a high motor, and he’s a key player for that defense.”

Even if he’s a former Wolverine?

“I’m going to give credit where it’s due,” Fields said.

Hutchinson, a Detroit-area native, has been an instrumental part of the Lions’ ascent from the depths of the NFC North. The Lions’ defense is nowhere near dominant — they’re 28th in DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average), according to Football Outsiders — but Hutchinson gives them a legitimate pass-rush threat and hope that things will get better.

Only two edge rushers in the NFL have played more snaps than Hutchinson’s 867 this season. His seven sacks rank 29th among all edge rushers, and his 30 hurries rank 23rd. Pro Football Focus ranks Hutchinson as the league’s 30th-best edge rusher.

The Bears are preparing this week in hopes he doesn’t have a repeat performance of their last meeting. In Week 10, he sacked Fields on the Bears’ last drive and had eight tackles. He also backpedaled when recognizing a fourth-quarter screen, leading Fields to throw a 20-yard pick-six to cornerback Jeff Okudah.

“The high effort — the motor — that’s what everybody says about him,” Bears coach Matt Eberflus said. “It’s true; he has that. He’s got a good skill set. Good rush set for him . . . and that’s what the defense is trying to emulate.”

Would the Bears dare emulate the Lions in the 2023 draft? Hutchinson is making a good argument for them to do just that.

Their profile is similar to the 2021 Lions. The Bears rank 29th in passing and rushing defensive DVOA. Last year’s Lions were 27th and 31st, respectively.

The Lions held the No. 2 overall pick last year; the Bears would draft there were the season to end today.

The Lions decided to draft the best edge rusher for their 4-3 defense when the Jaguars selected Georgia defensive tackle Travon Walker first overall. The Bears could take Alabama edge rusher Will Anderson for their 4-3 defense instead of another Georgia defensive tackle, Jalen Carter.

The only complicating factor: Last year’s draft was thin at quarterback, with only Kenny Pickett taken in Round 1. This year’s draft has Alabama quarterback Bryce Young as the presumptive No. 1 pick, with Kentucky’s Will Levis and Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud likely to go in the top 10.

The Bears, for once, don’t need a quarterback. If they draft second, they’d likely be happy to auction their pick to the team most desperate to take a passer. Whether they trade down or not, though, they’ll have to ask themselves: Would they rather have a star edge rusher or a standout defensive tackle?

Eberflus has described defensive tackle as the engine of his defense. Still, he stressed what developing a strong defensive end could do for any team when talking about Hutchinson.

“It’s everything,” he said, “because it helps with your pass coverage. It helps in situational football — in third down, in the red zone, in two-minute [defense].

“Those are all important impact moments of the game, and when you have a pass rusher that can do that, you can affect the quarterback. It helps everybody.”

The Bears can use the help.

“I think that’s what you do when you get a first-round pick,” Eberflus said of Hutchinson. “They have to be highly skilled, which he is. And they have to give great effort, and that’s what he does. So he brings that to the table.”

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