This week features one of the most integral pieces of the top team in college football, a lineman who received his conference’s award for, “Most Feared Offensive Lineman” and a defensive end trying to make a case for the top defensive player in the class. Their one commonality? They could all be difference makers for the New York Jets
Dylan’s Dimes will be a ten step breakdown of three of the biggest draft eligible players taking the field in some of the biggest matchups each week. I analyze background, on the field performance, off the field traits, opinions around the NCAA, all leading up to the dropping the dime on how they could fit with gang green.
Kicking us off this week is an absolute mammoth of a man. In today’s NFL, the role of powerful, run stuffing defensive tackles are severely underrated. For #1 Georgia, the man filling that role in their defense has been paramount to their immense success. Jordan Davis, the man anchoring one of the top defensive lines in the nation, and arguably the top defensive tackle in this class will be the first player highlighted this week.
Next up is one of the top offensive lineman in this year’s draft class, one of the top run blockers in the class, and his violent play style should transition relatively nicely to the next level. As a part of an NC State team that’s played competitive football this year, Ikem Ekwnou can be credited for a large portion of the offensive line’s success. As he looks to take the next step in his career, he’ll be the second player going through the wringer this week.
Despite losing to #3 Michigan State, #7 Michigan has had a very strong season to this point. Their defense has been explosive and, when their offense has found their rhythm, they’ve been one of the best teams in college football. One of the driving forces behind their defense’s success this season, and really during his entire tenure at Michigan, has been Aidan Hutchinson. Hutchinson is a guy a lot of Jets fans love, and he’ll be the final player getting broken down this week.
-Weight: 330 lbs
-From: Charlotte, NC
-Weight: 320 lbs
-From: Charlotte, NC
-Weight: 265 lbs
-From: Dearborn, MI
In high school, Davis began as a forward on the Hopewell high school basketball team before transferring to Mallard Creek where he joined football and continued playing basketball. According to his coaches, Davis started as a shy giant, quietly wrecking havoc. As he grew as a player, he also grew as a leader: his coach even said that “as he got more confidence as an individual, especially when it came to football, he was great.” Davis grew on and off the field and scouts took notice. Davis was ranked as one of the top 30 best defensive tackles in the country, leading to offers from Clemson, Miami, Florida and Georgia, where he ultimately committed. Davis has received second team all-SEC honors once in 2020, and he was a preseason All-America pick this season. Davis is said to be a light hearted leader, excellent teammate and locker room lifting type of individual.
At Providence Day, Ekwonu continued the legacy of superb athletes in his family. Ekwonu’s father played collegiate basketball, and his mother was a high school track star. His twin brother Osita is a linebacker at Notre Dame, meaning the pressure was on Ikem to carry the torch as well. He delivered, earning first-team all-state honors for football, while also wrestling and anchoring his relay team. He was the #29 recruit in all of North Carolina and ranked in the top 35 offensive guards in the country. Ekwonu received interest from Harvard and Yale, but looking to make a name for himself and pursue the pros, Ekwonu opted to go to NC State. Ekwonu’s name stands for “my effort will not be in vain”.
Hutchinson is no stranger to doing whatever it takes to help the team. At Divine Child High School, Hutchinson played offensive line, long snapper, tight end and defensive end. He was named to the 2018 U.S. Army All-America game where he posted two sacks and caught the eyes of many. There was never a doubt though, as when the Wolverines expressed interest, the Michigan boy opted to stay in state. Hutchinson has been a member of the Wolverines for four years now, through ups and downs. Under the old defensive regime, Hutchinson was able to fight and earn enough reps to catch attention of many, but his role limited him. Heading into the offseason, with a new defensive coaching staff, Hutchinson promised to do whatever needed, and wanted to be the one guy they could always count on. Having a career year, Hutchinson has gone above and beyond what was expected.
2020: 7 games, 16 tackles, 1 TFL and 1 sack.
2021: 7 games, 20 tackles, 3.5 TFLs and 2.0 sacks.
2019: 12 games, 50 pancakes and 7 sacks allowed.
2020: 12 games, 37 pancakes and 2 sacks allowed.
2019 (Missed time in 2020): 13 games, 69 tackles, 10.0 TFLs, 3.5 sacks and 3 forced fumbles.
2021: 8 games, 30 tackles, 7.5 TFLs, 6.0 sacks, 1 forced fumble and 1 fumble recovery.
Davis is not a flashy player who’s going to light up the box score. Davis opens things up for other players though, constantly. Davis is violent and aggressive, he uses his size and strength to move men and despite facing a bulk of double teams, his hand usage allows him to push off and stop the run consistently. His bull rush is strong, and his footwork is very good for a man of his size. Off the field, Davis is a humble leader who doesn’t need to make the big plays and get the attention constantly. He’s got a high football IQ and that will serve him exceptionally well at the next level.
When you watch Ekwonu the first thing that immediately jumps out is his aggressiveness. He’s violent, strong and packs a massive punch. When it comes to run blocking, he’s going to be able to stake a claim for the top run blocker in the class. He uses his power to clear holes quickly and can be the kind of guard you run behind early and often. Speaking of position, Ekwonu is likely better suited for the interior, but has played at tackle as well adding versatility as another layer to his game. Ekwonu has an incredibly high football IQ and his knowledge of how to take angles is exceptional. As TOJ’s resident offensive line expert Joe Belic noted, he varies pass sets within pass sets, and some of what you see him do can only compared to some of the top guys in the game.
This is a class with some superb defensive talent. Hutchinson has made a case to be near the top of that. From a physical standpoint, he has absurd length, his hips are fluid, his balance is exceptional and his athleticism is off the charts. Taking a closer look at his game, he provides the most diverse game of any edge rusher I’ve looked at to this point. Hutchinson is a great pass rusher, but he’s a top tier run stopper as well. Part of this is his experience in playing the less sexy roles in previous schemes, but he has so many facets to his game due to working in different outlets over his time at Michigan, that his game is very well rounded. His football IQ and versatility are both great, Hutchinson can line up almost everywhere and find ways to disrupt the play even if he’s mot the one making the play himself.
Although not a liability against the run, Davis has yet to develop strong enough pass rushing skills to be a legitimate presence in the pass rush. This could limit him at the level. Along with that, Davis plays more comfortably at nose tackle which limits his value. He’s not as versatile as someone like Quinnen Williams, nor as quick. He’s not as quick off the ball and his closing speed is not great. Obviously, that comes with his size, but you hope for more agility.
The two biggest issues Ekwonu has pertain to his pass protection. Of the top three linemen, Linderbaum, Neal and then Ekwonu, he is the worst pass blocker. Although you could argue he has the highest pass blocking intelligence of the three, Ekwonu struggles to play up to that same level. His hand usage is lack luster and if he could improve his placement, that could do wonders. His biggest issue that I’ve been banging the drum about is his balance and tendency to lose control of it from lunging too far forward. Maintaining stability and controlling his center of gravity would be the best change he could make to take his pass blocking to the next level.
This will be one of the shorter “bad” sections I have done so far. Hutchinson has quelled a lot of the concerns many had coming into the season. Hutchinson has shown his play speed is top notch, and his motor is exceptional. The biggest thing I can pin point is that his pass rush moves could stand to advance, although that’s something that comes with time.
7/10-The Focus of Improvement:
Davis: Speed: How quickly he gets off the ball.
Ekwonu: Balance: If Ekwonu could avoid lunging too far, it could take his pass blocking a step further.
Hutchinson: Advancing his pass rush moves.
Davis is the most fit reliant player of this bunch. He can be a day one starter that comes in and produces as a top run stuffer. The lack of variance in his skill set will hurt how much you keep him on the field, especially en lieu of better, more refined pass rushers. Davis will likely slot in as the nose tackle for a franchise relatively quickly. If he finds a fit where he can be given the chance to open up the game as he does and disrupt the game, Davis will thrive at the next level. I could see him developing into a top 15 nose tackle, with a floor as a starting nose tackle who rotates in pass rushing situations.
If you haven’t had a chance to listen to “Draft SZN” with James Kuntz, Michael Meegan, Joe Belic and myself, go check out this week’s episode where we conducted an offensive prospect roundtable. Joe and I disputed what Ekwonu brings to the table which led to his inclusion this week. As I look more into his game, the more I am reminded of certain parts of Rashawn Slater’s game more and more. He plays much more violent and he is a better run blocker than Slater was coming out of college. His knowledge is on par with Slater, but he fails to play as well rounded of a game as Slater.
Where I stand on Ekwonu is that if he can improve his pass blocking he could be a top tier lineman. I think his versatility isn’t as strong as what Slater brings to the table, but if you kept Ekwonu at guard you’d be perfectly fine. I see a route where Ekwonu could be a franchise guard, but he needs to develop certain aspects of his game, and if he does that, he can be firmly on that track. Even if he fails to develop to that point, Ekwonu still projects as a day-one starter.
Aidan Hutchinson can be a TJ Watt level disruptor at the next level. He’s begun to find comfort in his new scheme and his confidence is growing, evidently. His sack production has nearly doubled his collegiate high to this point. His versatility will add another layer to his game as well, as he’s going to bring more to the table than George Karlaftis and Adam Anderson. The potential is sky high with Hutchinson and as he continues to grow, his ceiling is through the roof.
9/10-The Outside Opinion:
“But here’s the thing: this guy plays like Thanos vs. Thor, Captain America and Ironman in Avengers: Endgame. Throw your best at him, throw multiple people at him — it doesn’t matter. He’s bigger, he’s stronger, and he deserves to be one of the top players chosen in this class.”- Trevor Sikkema, PFF
“The 6-foot-4, 320 pound lineman surges in the run game, using his overwhelming power to move defenders off of their spots with ease. He also has a good anchor in pass protection and is very hard to get by in the passing game. He can also move in space well, which for his size is impressive. While he has to become a bit more consistent in a few areas, he has all of the tools to be extremely successful at the NFL level.”- Kevin Oestreicher, USA Today
He plays a powerful game and is truly relentless in pursuit. Hutchinson also has fast eyes and locates the ball really well. He has 6.0 sacks (tied for 14th in the country) and a forced fumble this season for the Wolverines.”- Todd McShay, ESPN
Davis is the kind of silent difference maker the Jets could find a use for. However, the Jets defensive line not only has depth, but they have talent. Regardless of whether they resign Sheldon Rankins (which they should), they still have JFM and Quinnen Williams. The team has larger voids that need filling, and although Davis is an excellent player, their top picks should be allocated to larger holes.
The Jets spent two firsts in back to back years on upgrading the offensive line. They’ve taken steps forward, but there is still much more room to grow. Alijah Vera Tucker has come along quickly and proven to be well worth the selection. Mekhi Becton has been concerning due to his injuries, but when on the field he has shown franchise tackle potential. Adding Ekwonu and putting him at right guard would be a huge asset to the run game and aide Michael Carter in a big way. The Jets run to the left side of the field more than any team, and adding Ekwonu would give them a lead blocker to run behind consistently on the right side. All in all, I could get behind adding Ekwonu, but with the holes the Jets have, using a premier pick on another guard wouldn’t be the most desired.
The Jets will likely have a top pick and if so, Hutchinson is someone who could make a massive impact to this defense. The Jets have struggled to stop the run all season, and adding a guy like Hutchinson who can produce as a run stopper would be huge. As a pass rusher, Hutchinson is an animal who could wreck havoc alongside Carl Lawson. Hutchinson has so many layers to his game and his high football IQ makes him the kind of blue chip prospect that the Jets should be over the moon to have.