What do the NFL scouts think of Aidan Hutchinson and all top defensive prospects?
Bob McGinn's first look at the best players in the 2022 NFL Draft continues with the defense. What an eclectic group this is, too. There's something for everyone, as you'll read here.
Miss Bob McGinn’s first look at the offensive prospects in this year’s draft class? Subscribers can catch up right here for a comprehensive look at Kenny Pickett and co.
As the modern NFL game has evolved and the rulebook has been altered, teams have been forced to adjust their drafting and player procurement principles.
The value of quarterbacks has only increased with rules designed to promulgate offense. Because defenses have been penalized, however, teams tend to players on that side of the ball a slight edge in overall importance.
Evaluators surely recognize the job of wide receivers is made less difficult because they know where they’re going and those covering them do not. In the trenches, blockers are able to expend much less energy than the rushers trying to beat them on a down-in, down-out basis.
Wide receivers, at least below the elite level, have been devalued slightly because so many are being produced at the collegiate level. Running backs have been devalued for more than a decade.
With the rulebook stacked against the defense, teams have found it’s easier to catch a pass or pass block than it is to cover a receiver or pressure the quarterback.
That offers partial explanation for why, in this early guess at the first 50 players to be drafted, 27 were on defense compared to 23 on offense.
This projected top-50 will lead to my NFL Draft Series, which I’ve been assembling annually since 1985. That nine-part series can be found only at GoLongTD.com. It will begin about 10 days before the draft, which is scheduled April 28-30.
The interviews for the projected top-50 were conducted between Feb. 25 and March 2. My rankings were influenced to an extent by the workouts at the combine, which started March 3 and concluded March 6. All the remarks by the handful of scouts were made before the combine workouts; they were judging players off tape and live exposure, not workouts.
These rankings can and will change substantially over the next 6 ½ weeks after pro timing days, visits and rechecks as teams obtain missing 40-yard dash times, testing numbers, medical data, background information and analytical breakdowns. Heights were rounded to the nearest half-inch; quarter-inch measurements were rounded down (6-2 ¼ to 6-2, 6-2 ¾ to 6-2 ½). Players were ranked in order within each position.
Defensive line (7)
Devonte Wyatt, Georgia (6-3, 304): Played overweight in 2020 but parlayed an outstanding 2021 off-season into his best of four seasons for the Bulldogs. “There has been some underachiever to him over the course of his career,” one scout said. “May have had a senior epiphany. Probably the best D-lineman. He’s got everything. He’s really stout, very strong, can hold a double, dominate a single. He’s got rush skill for a big guy. He can play 3-technique and 1-technique in a 4-3 and multiple positions in a 3-4.” Coming off his best year in every statistical category. “Physically, he’s the best of these guys,” another scout said of this class of defensive linemen. “He’s as good as Geno Atkins. Three-technique. Holy f---, is he talented. He can do whatever he wants. Love that dude.” One scout said Wyatt was more athletic than the Packers’ Kenny Clark but not as stout. “He makes a mess in there,” a third scout said. “Doesn’t have much talent but plays his ass off. He’s smart. He’ll get crushed but he keeps coming. Not a pass rusher by any stretch. Energy tough guy. Second round.” Ran the fastest 40 (4.77) of the defensive linemen at the combine in Indianapolis. Also excelled in the jumps with a vertical of 29 inches and a broad jump of 9-3. Arm length of 32 5/8 inches wasn’t impressive. “He’s a line-of-scrimmage guy,” a fourth scout said. “Plays with high pad level. Controls blockers, but doesn’t look like he has any pass-rush ability.”
Jordan Davis, Georgia (6-6 ½, 341): Those scouts that expected him to post “freaky” testing numbers were right. His combine included a 4.78 40, a vertical of 32 and a broad jump of 10-3. “He’s a pretty upper-end athlete,” said one scout. “He’s a 3-4 nose tackle only. He’ll go second round.” Weighed 360 in mid-March 2021. Was 370 at one point during his career in Athens. Weight woes are more about his diet than any unwillingness to work. “I wouldn’t want him in the first,” a second scout said. “But if you want a guy that just two gaps and totally controls things, this guy, they don’t move him at all. He grabs the guard or center, or both of them, and tosses them off to the side. But I’ve seen him jump into the A gap and make plays. Looks like he can run, too. And he does have power pass-rush ability.” Finished with 7 sacks in a four-year career. “He’s like that fat ass from Kentucky last year (NT Quinton Bohanna),” said a third scout. “He (Bohanna) actually did pretty good (for Dallas). Davis plays a little bit harder (than Bohanna). He probably goes second round but somebody may stretch it.” If not for his mother’s insistence that he remain in school and graduate, he would have been in the 2021 draft. “He’s got the story and everybody loves him, but I just don’t know what you do with him in the modern game,” a fourth scout said. “He plays 10 games a game. He gets in and then you don’t see him anymore. He’s not in on pass downs. He’s a giant, but he has a very, very limited skill set. He can kick ass right in front of his face. He ain’t going nowhere else. He’s not going tackle to tackle or guard to guard. He’s going center to one guard for five plays a game. If you think there’s some value in that as a first-rounder, sure, take him.” Arms were 34, hands were a huge 10 ¾.
Travis Jones, Connecticut (6-4 ½, 325): Reported as a freshman weighing a roly-poly 350 before remaking his body at one of America’s most downtrodden programs. “I was going to write him off easy,” one scout said. “Big ol’ guy from UConn, this will be quick. But he’s got something to him. He grew on me. He’s active, tough, knows how to play. He’s got some jolt in his hands. Won’t be a pass rusher but he’s got some walk-back power and effort. But first round would be rich for me.” Voted team captain. Didn’t like school but was passionate about football. “He has increased his value immensely,” said another scout. “He can’t go in the first but he’s going in the second. Underachieved at UConn but he’s pretty talented. He came (to the Senior Bowl) with a purpose.” After a strong week in Mobile, he performed well at the combine with a 4.92 40, terrific agility runs and solid jumps. “He’s not a great 4-3 fit but a 3-4 team could take him,” a third scout said. “This is a strong man. He is impossible to move. He bent people over backwards at the Senior Bowl. For a 330-pound guy his feet are better than you want to give him credit for. He can be a decent first- and second-down pass rusher but he’s not going to play in sub.” Arms were 34 ¼.
Perrion Winfrey, Oklahoma (6-3 ½, 290): Played two seasons for the Sooners after spending two seasons in junior college. “The guy that looked awesome at the Senior Bowl was the Winfrey kid,” said one scout. “He’s stiff and he plays a little bit high, but he can run, he’s explosively strong and he’s violent. He can play the run, he can play the pass. He was all over the place. Technique-wise, he’s a little raw. He’s not a first-rounder but he’ll be a second, maybe a third. He’s got starter talent.” Ran fast (4.89) and his arms measured 35 ¼. “He’ll get drafted late first or early second and guess what’s going to happen?” said another scout. “He’s going to bust. He doesn’t have it within his soul. He’s not dialed in and focused. I don’t think he’s got the intestinal fortitude to stand up and do it every Sunday in the NFL. He’s got all that (talent). He was a five-star (recruit). He’s too cool for school. He was much better in the Senior Bowl than during the season.”
DeMarvin Leal, Texas A&M (6-4, 283): Played all across the line for the Aggies. “He’s like crazy athletic,” said one scout. “Now, he is more finesse than physical. He’s not soft. He’s just not violent. But he is super athletic. You wish his motor ran a little hotter sometimes. Played better in 2020 than 2021, for whatever reason. He’s got a good chance to go first round. He’s just too talented.” Ran 5.0. Arms were 33 ¼. “Really good player,” a second scout said. “They played him as a 1-technique, 3-technique and 5-technique but he might be best as a 5-technique. Has pass-rush ability. Quick hands. I liked him more and more.” A three-year player, he registered 8 ½ of his 13 sacks in 2021. “He’s like a two-or-three-plays-a-game flash guy,” a third scout said. “Unlike the other (top) guys, he’s low motor. They line him up all over. Tweener. Not productive. I don’t think he knows how to play. Not much twitch, not much strength.”
Logan Hall, Houston (6-6, 283): Primary sport was basketball well into his high-school years before success in football changed his mind. “He may be sneaky good,” said one scout. “3-4 defensive end. He’s got everything. He is really close to the first. Twenty-five to 35.” In 2020, he played opposite Payton Turner, the No. 28 pick last year by New Orleans. “Some people feel he’s better than (Turner),” said a second scout. “He looks like a 5-technique but we think he can play 3-technique because he’s quick and twitchy and can run and overwhelm people with his length. Problem is, I saw him get pushed around so much inside. He can play high. Little bit raw. Needs a lot of work on his pass-rush moves. He’s got a chance to go in the second as a talent. There’s upside.” Clocked 4.88 and had short arms (32 ¾). “More of a 3-4 end … put some weight on,” said a third scout. “Plays his ass off. He’s a banger, got some quickness. He fights like hell. Nice guy to have. Not going to be a playmaker for you but he’s got some gap quickness. He’s some of that natural quickness and hand use to get on edges. He’s got more natural talent than (Travon) Walker.”
Phidarian Mathis, Alabama (6-4, 310): Spent five years in Tuscaloosa, starting the final two. Posted 9 of his 10 ½ sacks as a senior. “He’s just kind of a grunt-energy guy,” said one scout. “Knows how to play being at Alabama. Technique’s there. Knows how to work angles. Not an ultra talented player but he really maximizes what he gives you. He’ll start. You can win with him. Alabama has had a ton of these guys. He reminds me of Dalvin Tomlinson. Plays his ass off, smart as can be, sits in there and messes things up. Late first, early second.” Elected not to run the 40; turned in a poor 5.46 clocking in March 2021. “He didn’t even start for them at the start of the year,” another scout said. “They’ve got so much talent there, I don’t think they know what they have until they play. Boy, he’s got long arms (34 5/8). Perfect size. Just a very productive guy. More of a disruptor than a finisher. Has a great motor.” Played across the front for the Crimson Tide but his NFL position probably will be nose tackle.
Edge rushers (7)
Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan (6-6 ½, 260): Finished a distant second to Alabama QB Bryce Young in Heisman Trophy voting. “I compared him to Joey Bosa because Joey doesn’t have the hips his brother (Nick) has but he was a really active guy that played hard,” one scout said. “Hutchinson is really strong against the run. He’s more of a technician. I think his natural position is 5-technique. The guy’s strength is going up the field. I don’t know how much he can improve. Guys with better hips and flexibility might be able to improve more. He’s an excellent player now.” Suffered a tib-fib fracture in Game 3 of 2020 season and underwent surgery. Returned in 2021 with one goal in mind: beat Ohio State. “He brings juice to a locker room,” said another scout. “He’s got ‘it.’ I’ve love to have that guy on our team. The negative is inability to consistently finish as a pure marquee pass rusher. Because he’s so technically sound he can’t always match up.” Ran an ordinary 40 (4.74). His arm length of 32 ¼ will be a concern for some teams, too. “Hutchinson isn’t as gifted as (Rashan) Gary but he’s a better football player coming out,” said a third scout. “He’s a unique character guy, a culture changer. Is he the most physically talented of this group? Probably not. But he is the best football player. He’s a really good 3-4 outside backer, which is what he did this year. He could certainly play either defensive end in a 4-3. Hutchinson played a lot better when he was lighter this year. He really changed his body. The motor is off the charts.” His shuttle times led the position. “Not the most gifted athletically but he maximizes everything he’s got,” a fourth scout said. “He’s a good player. I just don’t think he’s elite. He brings it. He does everything he’s supposed to do. He’s not as good as Joey Bosa. Joey maximizes everything. He’s more like Hutchinson. Nick is more gifted.”