For months leading up to the 2022 NFL Draft, Michigan's Heisman Trophy finalist Aidan Hutchinson was the heavy favorite to be the No. 1 overall pick. Then, quite suddenly, he wasn't.
The Jacksonville Jaguars, picking first, selected Georgia's Travon Walker. The Detroit Lions weren't about to pass on the local product Hutchinson at No. 2 overall.
The Jaguars are at the Lions' facility this week for joint practices, and the two teams will square off in the preseason Saturday.
Some players keep lists of the teams that passed on them in the draft and use it for motivation. Hutchinson doesn't appear to be one of them. Might he harbor any ill will to the one NFL club that passed on him in the draft?
"Nope," Hutchinson said Wednesday, via mlive.com. "I'm happy here. Very thankful. Very thankful. I mean, it all worked out. It was divine timing. The way things went (was) the way things were supposed to go."
Walker might have more guaranteed more money with his rookie contract ($37.4 million to Hutchinson's $35.7 million), but Hutchinson said this week that he was actually hoping to slide to No. 2 and the home-state Lions.
"The whole draft process, I wanted them to pick me," Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson attended Divine Child High School, which is close to the Lions' facility in Allen Park, Michigan. He attended Michigan and lifted himself and the program to the national stage with a brilliant final season, finishing second to Bryce Young in the Heisman voting and helping the Wolverines land a spot in the College Football Playoff semifinals in 2021.
There was a chance the Jaguars could have taken him, of course. But when Hutchinson's mother produced a childhood photo of her son decked in Lions gear, it felt preordained he'd stay in Detroit.
The Lions also have to think the 2022 draft has worked out well so far, too. Hutchinson had a strong first season with the Lions, notching 9.5 sacks, three interceptions and two fumble recoveries. He finished second in The Associated Press Defensive Rookie of the Year balloting to the Jets' Sauce Gardner.
Walker, meanwhile, finished strong as a rookie but tallied only 3.5 sacks, one fumble recovery and an interception while adjusting to playing more of an off-the-ball role. The Lions also beat the Jaguars, 40-14, in Week 14 last season.
And Hutchinson could be one of the best players on a Lions team this season that's expectations are as big as they've been in recent memory. He believes the best is yet to come for himself, too.
"I think the sky's the limit for me," Hutchinson said. "I really feel that. I haven't even scratched my potential yet. I feel like I'm still stacking the days, getting so much better every day. Man, it's going to be a fun year."
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