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Draft darlings: Xavier Hutchinson could be a Day 3 steal

This Iowa State wide receiver possesses an intriguing combination of size and skill.

NFL: Combine Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

In the NFL, speed is king. Teams and evaluators put a premium on a player’s ability to take the top off of a defense. They’re looking for prospects with lightning-fast 40-yard dash times — along with film showing one explosive play after another.

But this focus on speed can also cause some players to fall through the cracks.

This is where a player like Iowa State wide receiver Xavier Hutchinson enters the picture. While he has the receiving (and touchdown) production of an NFL-caliber player, his modest athletic testing numbers have largely left him evaluated as a middle-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.

But he has all of the tools to be a quality player for the Kansas City Chiefs. Let’s take a look:

The measurables

Standing 6 feet 2 and weighing 203 pounds, Hutchinson has a good blend of size and athletic ability. His 31 3/8-inch arms and 9 3/8-inch hands are slightly above average among NFL wide receivers — but the most interesting parts of his testing might be his 36-inch vertical jump and the 1.55-second 10-yard split on his 4.53-second 40-yard dash.

Hutchinson’s vertical jump suggests a player who could be effective in the red zone (or in other contested catch situations), while the fast start to his 40-yard dash translates to short-to-intermediate route-running.

While these numbers are not staggering, seeing how he takes advantage of his physical tools on game days gives us a clearer picture of the kind of player he is.

Red zone threat

Hutchinson is one of the larger wideouts in this class — and at times, he played even bigger than his frame would suggest. The Cyclones used very simple concepts to help him maximize his physical gifts in the red zone.

Hutchinson’s number was called frequently. In 2022, he had five touchdowns inside the opposition’s 20-yard line.

Here we see him set up an outside route by hesitating (and then exploding) out of his break to gain a step on the defender. The quarterback recognizes his separation and throws a ball to the end zone. Hutchinson is able to locate the ball — which was thrown behind him — and in one smooth motion, jumps to make the grab while re-adjusting to the throw in mid-air and getting both feet in-bounds for the touchdown.

While Hutchinson often used his frame to box out smaller defensive backs on red-zone verticals and fades, he also used his stature to make plays in the flats.

On this play, Hutchinson is lined up on the inside. On the snap, the defensive back tries to press him near the line of scrimmage — but with a very subtle move, Hutchinson breaks to the outside, fighting through contact to create separation. While the throw is a bit offline, Hutchinson adjusts to it on the run, extending to make a beautiful diving catch for a touchdown.

More than just a big wide receiver

Having the size to make red-zone plays is one thing — but when it is combined with fluid route-running, it adds to Hutchinson’s appeal.

Among the things that stand out most are his subtle (and shifty) speed changes during his routes. While his 4.53 40-yard dash time is modest, it’s easy to see how his 1.55-second 10-yard split shows up on film.

As he drops into zone coverage on this snap, the cornerback gives Hutchinson a cushion of almost 10 yards. Hutchinson begins to slow down — and as the corner steps up, Hutchinson accelerates to blow right past him.

Pressure in the pocket forces an offline throw, but Hutchinson is still able to find the ball and come back for it. The corner, however, doesn't know where it is — and is out of position. So the play ends with an obvious pass interference call.

Here we see a corner playing tight man coverage — which Hutchinson recognizes. Using a hard jab to the outside, he induces the corner to go there — before breaking vertically to the inside and finishing the play in the end zone.

While Hutchinson lacks the true long speed to be an explosive NFL playmaker, he has enough burst off the snap (and from his initial cuts) to get himself open on intermediate routes — along with those specifically designed to beat man coverages.

The bottom line

While Hutchinson may never be an NFL star, he can provide quality snaps to a team like the Chiefs. If the team addresses other positions in the draft’s early rounds — or perhaps even if the team takes another wideout early — Hutchinson could be a viable option in the middle rounds.

Hutchinson doesn’t have the elite testing numbers (or jaw-dropping athletic ability) of other receivers in this draft, he has demonstrated an ability to catch the ball. With a drop rate of only 3.7% in 2022, he has some of the surest hands in the class.

If he’s paired with Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes, Hutchinson could find himself playing important snaps very early in his career.

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