The NFL's pre-draft process can be equally exciting for players as it is a grueling marathon. In the slow march toward draft weekend, prospects face the combine and pro days, interviews and endless speculation over teams' interest.
Count the new face of the Lions defense, No. 2 overall pick Aidan Hutchinson, among those excited to leave that all behind and take to the field.
"Yeah, it's great. This is what I do at the end of the day," Hutchinson told reporters Saturday following a practice session at Detroit's rookie minicamp. "All that talk, I hate the talk. It's been a lot of months of talking, lot of rah-rah, but now we're out here getting the work in, which is what I do."
Hutchinson was a productive cog in the wheel of the University of Michigan's defense for two years before suffering a fractured ankle early in his junior season. The defensive end's performance after returning to the field his senior year cemented him as an all-time Wolverine and guaranteed top-five draft pick.
Hutchinson racked up 14 sacks, the third-highest total in Division I in 2021 and a school single-season record. He added to his trophy case with similar efficiency, taking home the Ronnie Lott Trophy, the Ted Hendricks Award, the Vince Lombardi Award and earning recognition as the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. The Wolverine came in second in Heisman voting behind Alabama's Bryce Young.
Given the volume of Hutchinson's collegiate accolades and production, the Lions can be forgiven for rushing to draft him after the Jacksonville Jaguars made Georgia DE Travon Walker the No. 1 overall pick. According to Peter King of NBC Sports, Detroit turned in the card to make the Hutchinson pick official within a minute of Jacksonville's selection of Walker.
The next step -- turning the franchise around -- won't come so quickly for Hutchinson and the Lions. Detroit hasn't finished better than fourth in the NFC North since 2017 and hasn't won its division since 1993.
"I definitely feel inspired to get this team going again, but, again, it's not just me," Hutchinson said. "It's going to be a group effort. It's going to take all guys on this team to get this team back to winning. So, you know, if I can be a piece of that, I'd love to."
With rookie minicamp wrapping up and mandatory minicamp on the horizon in June, Hutchinson will have plenty of opportunity to get to work and establish himself within the team's gritty culture. Time will tell if the Michigan native can turn a seemingly perfect fit into a storybook turnaround in Detroit.