Lions' Aidan Hutchinson wins 2022 Pepsi Rookie of the Year

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MAY 21: Aidan Hutchinson #97 of the Detroit Lions poses for a portrait during the NFLPA Rookie Premiere on May 21, 2022 in Los Angeles, California (Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images)

The Detroit Lions have added to their end-of-season accolades with a Rookie of the Year award for its young defensive lineman. 

Aidan Hutchinson won the 2022 Pepsi Zero Sugar Rookie of the Year. He joins Nick Bosa and former Lions draft pick Ndamukong Suh as the only defensive players to win the award.

The award may feel more like a popularity contest since fans vote for their favorite player - but it's not the only rookie award that the 21-year-old has been nominated for. He's a finalist for Defensive Rookie of the Year as well, which is determined by the Associated Press.

It took a game for Hutchinson to find his rhythm, but the numbers that the former Michigan Wolverine racked up in the Lions' 2022 season show what he can do when he's found a groove. 

Up against other impressive defensive talent new to the league like New York Jets cornerback Sauce Gardner, it took a big show this season to come out on top. 

The rookie made a combined 52 tackles, including 28 on his own. The stats put him at the top for defensive player rankings - but it was the timing of those tackles, as well as who he was taking to the ground that made the difference. 

That includes two momentum-killing interceptions and a flurry of sacks at key moments. 

Hutchinson was one of six finalists nominated for the award. The other players include Gardner and Jets wide receiver Garrett Wilson, New Orleans Saints wide receiver Chris Olave, Seattle Seahawks running back Kenneth Walker and cornerback Tariq Woolen.

Here are some of the highlights:

Three-sack game against Commanders

Hutchinson had a pretty quiet week one in a 38-35 loss where he had one combined tackle when the Lions hosted the Philadelphia Eagles on Sept. 11.

With fans worried the second overall pick in the draft maybe a "bust" or could never live up to the expectations of a second-overall pick, Hutchinson bounced back in his second professional game. 

On Sept. 18, Detroit played the 1-0 Washington Commanders at Ford Field. The Lions came away with their first win of the season, but it was Hutchinson that shined brightest. 

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In the 36-27 win, he got three sacks (all in the first half) and five solo tackles.

He became the second player (before Lions linebacker James Houston got the same amount in as many games) to record three sacks or more in his first two games in the last 20 years, according to the NFL on CBS on Twitter.

Impactful interceptions against Packers and Giants

Most defensive lineman do not get the chance at multiple interceptions in one season.

Hutchinson recorded three in 2022-2023, including two potential game-changing turnovers to help his team win. And they came against a rival when it tasted sweetest.

During the Nov. 6 matchup against the Green Bay Packers, quarterback Aaron Rodgers had driven his offense to the one-yard line, looking to take the lead in a scoreless game.

Rodgers rolled out after faking the run and tried passing to David Bakhitari for the touchdown. Instead, Hutchinson made the interception by following the ball thrown by Rodgers, ending the team's drive and stopping them from scoring.

A similar show was put on display when the Lions played the New York Giants three weeks later.  

At one point during the away, the Giants led the Lions 6-3 with just over six minutes in the second quarter.

After the ball was snapped, Hutchinson scooted back into coverage instead of rushing the passer. As the ball was thrown over the middle, Hutchinson jumped right in front of a throw for his second interception.

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The Lions started with the ball at the Giants 18-yard line and later scored to make it 10-6. Detroit won their third game in a row and fourth game of the year 31-18 and the game-changing interception helped the effort.

It also marked a turning point for the team, which still had playoff aspirations at the time and controlled its destiny.