Hofmann: Detroit Lions Will Exit Bottom-Dweller Status in 2022
The Lions are coming off of a disappointing season in 2021-2022 after finishing with the second worst record in the league at 3-13-1. This was expected by most of Lion nation and was viewed as a tank season by many fans. Although the team’s record was in the gutter, they showed flashes of being a competent team. This was especially evident when head coach Dan Campbell took over play calling duties from former offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn in week 9. Players such as Amon-Ra St. Brown, D’Andre Swift, Amani Oruwariye and TJ Hockenson showed that they have the ability to compete at the NFL level for a long time. In the upcoming 2022-2023 season the Lions are looking to exceed expectations and continue to develop key players for the future.
The 2022 draft for the Lions was a major success, at number 2 overall the Detroit Lions selected Aidan Hutchinson, a defensive end out of Michigan who was widely regarded as the most NFL ready player in the class. Hutchinson is seen as a plug and play type of a guy and a player who does everything at a high level. Through his 4 years at Michigan he tallied up 18.5 sacks and finished second in Heisman voting his senior year, the first defensive player to do that since Manti Teo in 2012. Hutchinson, who has the potential to be an All-Pro level player in the coming years will be a huge piece for the Lions this season.
Campbell has high praise for the young defensive end saying this during an interview this off-season “… He just learns and gets better every day, you just see it and so I love that about him. He’s just – everyday man, there’s growth right in front of us.” If he can become what this front office believes he can become, this defense is going to be putting fear into opposing offenses this season and beyond.
The Lions proved a dedication to changing the narrative in Detroit for the first time in years when they traded for the 12th pick with the Minnesota Vikings to select Jameson Williams. Williams, the electric Alabama receiver coming off of a complete ACL tear was seen as the most explosive receiver coming into the draft. Before his injury he was almost certain to be a top 10 pick.
Even with the ACL tear, Brad Holmes and the Lions saw enough in Williams to take him with the expectation that he will be ready by week one. During an interview Coach Campbell sounded hopeful but cautious when asked about Williams’s return timetable. “We’re going to do this thing the right way and when he’s ready, he’ll be ready. But no, I don’t feel like you’re going to see him out there day one.” With that being said it isn’t expected that Williams will be ready the first day of camp but will most likely be good to go by the start of the season. Williams will be a dangerous weapon for Jared Goff this season lining up on the outside opposite of newly acquired DJ Chark and star-in-the-making second year player Amon-Ra St. Brown
The Lions offense was in the bottom half of the league last season, ranking 22nd in total offense. The first half of the season was abysmal, the ball was not moving and turnovers were a serious problem. After the bye week, there was some optimism in Detroit as Campbell took over play calling and the offense became more dynamic and unpredictable to defenses across the league. It seemed like the team was having fun and clicking for the first time all season under their first year coach.
Looking ahead to the 2022-2023 season fans expect to see more of the offense they saw during the last 8 games of the previous year. The Lions added weapons for Jared Goff to play with, in DJ Chark who came over from Jacksonville, and Jameson Williams, the dynamic receiver from Alabama.
When the Lions traded for Goff during the 2021-2022 offseason, a lot of fans are expected Goff to be a bridge quarterback and get the lions through until his contract was up. Although there is great possibility that the Lions will dump Goff and select a Quarterback in next years draft, if Goff can show that he has what it takes to be a starting QB in the NFL, the Lions may decide to keep Goff around. Remember, Goff lead a high powered Los Angeles Rams team to the Super bowl just a few years ago. With the right tools and coaching, Goff could be the guy. With expected leaps young stars in Deandre Swift, TJ Hockenson and Amon-Ra St. Brown, as well as a top offensive line in the league. This offense is hoping to be improved, especially with the favorable schedule they face during the season.
The Lions defense was arguably the worst in the league last season and they often struggled to stop teams from imposing their will on drives down the field. The defensive line was letting whoever touched the ball get through and could not force any pressure. Th linebackers were among the worst in the league and the secondary was injury riddled. During the 2022 off season the front office heavily addressed defense using 6 of their 8 picks on defense, starting with the dynamic Aidan Hutchinson, who will be an obvious day one starter and playmaker for week one.
In the second round they selected Josh Paschal a DE from Kentucky who should be a very fun tool for Aaron Glenn to utilize this season, a player who can play on the outside, inside and in some packages a linebacker. With their third round pick they selected Kerby Joseph a safety out of Syracuse, I love Joseph I believe he can start week one, he has tremendous length and great ball skills, he is going to fit perfectly in the lions deep zone scheme and be a great addition to the secondary. Malcolm Rodriguez a undersized linebacker out of Oklahoma State was taken with the 6th round pick. He has great speed and mechanics, the only knock on him is his size and arm length but I believe he is gonna be special on the special teams unit and be a great backup. In Free agency the Lions were not very active with the bigger names but made very good signings without spending a lot of money and not signing these guys over a long period of time. They signed Safety DeShon Elliott from Baltimore who was severely underrated during his tenure on the ravens, who I expect to have a breakout year with this team under Aaron Glenn’s scheme. They also made small depth moves in signing Linebacker Jarrad Davis who was a first round pick for the lions during the 2017 to a one year deal, they signed veteran cornerback Mike Hughes to a one year deal to be a depth piece and a mentor to the younger guys in the secondary. With Amani Oruwariye expected to make another jump after his 6 interception season, should be a bright spot on this defense. Outside of Amani, this secondary has the potential to be very talented, Jeff Okudah is expected to make a full recovery from his Achilles injury while I do not expect him to be the star corner fans thought he was when he was drafted, I do expect him to make an impact on defense and hopefully be atleast half the player he was viewed to be. Undrafted studs Jerry Jacobs and AJ Parker will be back for another year after both seemingly came out of nowhere.
A storyline to watch out for going into training camp is seeing if any of the guys who missed a major portion of last season can come back and play at the same or higher level this season. The three most notable names being DE Romeo Okwara, WR Quintez Cephus and CB Jeff Okudah. Romeo Okwara is 1 year removed from a career high 10 sack season with the Lions. He was off to a slow start during the 2021 season when he went down with an Achilles injury during week 4. Having him off the edge this upcoming year could be huge for the defense if Romeo can come close or exceed the amount of production he gave the 2020 team, at only 27 with 2 years left on his 3 year 39 million dollar extension, his production will mean a lot to this young defense.
Quintez Cephus situation is more of a weird one though he is only 24 and has showed major potential during his first two seasons in the league, one question still remains, where does he play? This off-season the Lions added two wide receivers who are almost guranteed a starting job and second year player Amon-Ra St. Brown’s development shows no signs of stopping. The Lions also retained Kalif Raymond who had somewhat of a mini breakout season as well as keeping veteran Josh Reynolds around. Going into last season, Cephus was penned in as a top 2 WR on the roster but this year it looks like he will fall to around the fourth or fifth spot depending on camp outcomes. Cephus has all the potential and the tools to be a very good receiver in this league and a contributor to the Lions. He just needs to find his role on this roster and he will be very successful.
The last player and probably the most intriguing one would be CB Jeff Okudah, drafted with the 3rd overall pick in the 2020 draft, Okudah had an abysmal rookie year, getting burnt left and right. Yes it does take corners longer to adjust to the NFL from college and he was thrown into a terribly ran defense, being forced to guard the opposing teams number one receiver on a weekly basis, you still want to see some hope that he will live up to his third pick status. Last season we saw little to nothing as he tore his Achilles in the first game of the season. This year the hope is that he can come in and play a part in the defense, I feel like the expectation that he is ever gonna be a top 5 corner in the league that was expected of him when he entered the league is gone. Most sensible fans just want him to be serviceable, I know this is not very ideal when you spent a top 3 pick on a player but after an Achilles injury and very few glimpses of stardom, it is the reality.
The schedule curators this year seemed to do the Lions a favor as the Lions have the fifth easiest schedule in the league based on projected win totals. The Lions are looking forward to this season as they are expected to outperform their abysmal record of 3-13-1 last season. The Lions will play 9 home games and 8 road games this season.
With the pieces added and familiarity with head coach Dan Campbell, I predict the Lions to make a significant leap towards being competitive and go 7-10. Beating the Commanders, Bears 2x, Giants, Jags, Jets and Panthers, and dropping games to the Packers 2x, Vikings 2x, Bills, Dolphins, Cowboys, Eagles, Patriots and Seahawks. I think this team beats the teams they are supposed to, which is always the first step in turning around a historically struggling franchise.
I do not expect this team to beat the Packers at all this season; they just have too much star power even with the loss of Davante Adams and always seem to find a way to beat the Lions. Finishing 7-10 would most likely get the Lions out of their places as a bottom-dweller in the league, but still land them around the top 10 and an option to be able to select their QB of the future or address a different need with this stacked upcoming draft class. 7-10 would be a much needed improvement and hopefully the development of the young pieces continues and playoff pushes begin in the near future.