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Detroit Lions Writers
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As they transitioned to life with new quarterback Jared Goff last year, the Detroit Lions started borrowing more from the concepts Sean McVay and the Rams had previously had success with, transitioning more to 1-back formations and wide zone rushing concepts.
Jared Goff is locked in as the Lions' starter for a second straight season. Somewhat surprisingly, Detroit did not add any legitimate competition despite Goff putting together a relatively underwhelming 2021 season. Goff's adjusted net yards per attempt fell for a fifth-consecutive season to an abysmal 5.64. In 14 starts, Goff threw for just 19 touchdowns and 3,245 yards. In a make-or-break season for Goff, he can no longer point to deficiencies in surrounding talent should the Lions offense again struggle. Goff will have the luxury of operating behind an above-average offensive line and throwing to what should be an above-average group of pass catchers. T.J. Hockenson and Amon-Ra St. Brown are proven options in the middle of the field and D'Andre Swift is one of the better pass-catching backs in the league. Detroit invested heavily in improving at the outside wide receiver spots in the offseason. DJ Chark was signed away from Jacksonville to man one outside position and the Lions traded all the way up to the twelfth-overall pick to select dangerous Alabama wide receiver Jameson Williams. The improved weapons provide reason for optimism that Goff could bounce back in 2022. However, given his recent track record and lack of rushing upside, fantasy owners should be hesitant to trust Goff as anything more than a low-end QB2.
Tim Boyle began his career in Green Bay before signing a one-year deal with the Lions during the 2021 offseason. Boyle's big arm has allowed him to stick around in the NFL and gives him a hint of upside but his inaccuracy has been his hallmark throughout his career. In three 2021 starts in place of an injured Goff, Boyle threw twice as many interceptions (six) as touchdowns (three). In a surprising move, the Lions brought Boyle back for 2022 on another one-year deal with $1.75M guaranteed. Furthermore, Detroit did not add any depth at the position via the draft. Boyle should be considered the favorite to again hold off David Blough for the backup role.
D'Andre Swift was expected by many to take over as the lead back for the Lions last season. Instead, he split carries almost exactly evenly with Jamaal Williams, averaging 11.6 rushing attempts per game. Swift battled injuries, which contributed to the coaching staff's reluctance to give him 20-plus touches per game. The area where Swift did truly emerge was as a pass catcher. His 62 receptions in 13 games pro rates to 81 over the course of a full season. This receiving upside is what makes Swift such an intriguing fantasy option. Before his midseason injury in 2021, Swift was emerging as a fantasy force. From Week 5 through Week 11, he averaged 16.0 carries, 5.0 receptions and 106.2 total yards per game. If Swift can put together a full season of good health, he could emerge as one of the top fantasy running backs in the NFL.
Jamaal Williams is almost more of a 1b to Swift's 1a than a true backup. Williams averaged 11.8 carries and 2.0 receptions per game last season in 13 games for the Lions. Through four years in Green Bay and one in Detroit, Williams has been a steady if unspectacular performer. He runs hard and does the small things coaches appreciate but lacks the juice and explosiveness to be a true difference maker. Craig Reynolds is a fourth-year back out of tiny Kutztown University. He saw his first extended playing time as a pro down the stretch of the 2021 season when the top two backs were sidelined. The highlight of his career to date was a 112-yard Week 14 performance in a shocking upset of the Arizona Cardinals. The fourth spot is likely to come down to a battle between Jermar Jefferson and Godwin Igwebuike. Igwebuike made the transition from defensive back last season and flashed some explosiveness on his way to 118 rushing yards on 18 carries (6.6 yards per attempt) and adds special team value.
Jason Cabinda's main impact came on special teams. Offensively, he played just 141 snaps in 14 games and operated almost exclusively as a blocker. Cabinda had three carries and four receptions on the season.
- Josh Reynolds, Quintez Cephus, Kalif Raymond, Tom Kennedy, Javon McKinley, Trinity Benson, Kalil Pimpleton [R], Corey Sutton [R], Josh Johnson [R]
The Lions could boast the most improved wide receiver corps in the league heading into 2022. Late last season, rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown emerged in a big way. Through his first 11 games, he had 39 catches for 352 yards and no touchdowns. In his final six games, he caught 51 passes, racked up 621 total yards, and scored 6 touchdowns. St. Brown showed an ability to get open and to make plays with the ball in his hands after the catch. The biggest fantasy question for St. Brown is whether he can expect anything near the level of opportunity he got down the stretch (10-plus targets in each of his final six games) when injuries decimated the Lions' top pass catchers. While St. Brown is a sure thing in the slot, the two outside wide receivers come with plenty of upside but some real questions, as well. D.J. Chark Jr was signed to a one-year deal in the offseason and is looking to bounce back from a disastrous 2021 season. He suffered a season-ending injury midway through Week 4 and in the four games he did play, caught just 7-of-22 targets. Chark has always been a freaky size/speed specimen but has only put it all together for a few short stretches in his four-year career. The other starter will be rookie Jameson Williams. Williams tore up the SEC (79 catches for 1,572 yards and 15 TDs) in his lone season at Alabama, after transferring from Ohio State. Williams suffered a torn ACL in the national championship game but his recovery seems to be ahead of schedule and an early season return is possible. The elite speed of Williams and Chark outside combined with the playmaking ability of St. Brown in the slot could be a potent combination.
Josh Reynolds, Quintez Cephus, and Kalif Raymond seem the most likely candidates to fill the backup roles. Reynolds is a six-year veteran who spent time with the Rams and Titans before landing in Detroit midway through the 2021 season. In seven games with the Lions, Reynolds caught 19 passes for 306 yards and 2 touchdowns. He is a proven veteran with a solid combination of size and speed on the outside. After signing a two-year, $6M extension in the offseason (with $2.7M guaranteed), Reynolds is a lock to make the roster and a good bet to open the season as a starter should Jameson Williams open the season on the PUP list. Cephus enters his third season in Detroit. After a solid rookie season, he looked poised to emerge as a key contributor last season before a season-ending shoulder injury in Week 5. Cephus had 15 catches for 204 yards and 2 touchdowns at the time of his injury, all of which were team-best among the Lions wide receivers. Kalif Raymond is an undersized speedster who caught 48 passes for 576 yards and 4 touchdowns for the Lions last season. He also returns punts and kickoffs, which should keep him active on game days even if he slides down the depth chart due to the new arrivals.
- James Mitchell [R], Garrett Griffin, Brock Wright, Jared Pinkney, Shane Zylstra, Matt Sokol, Derrick Deese Jr Jr. [R]
T.J. Hockenson had a breakout sophomore season in 2020, catching 67 passes for 723 yards and six touchdowns on his way to a TE5 fantasy finish. He seemed poised to build on that success in 2021 but did not make a third-year leap. Injuries caused him to miss five games and he finished the year with 61 catches for 583 yards and 4 touchdowns. He has proven to be a reliable starting fantasy tight end but has yet to emerge as a true difference-maker. Hockenson turns 25 years old during training camp so he may still have some untapped potential. Behind Hockenson, Brock Wright showed solid blocking ability as a rookie and caught 12 passes for 117 yards and 2 touchdowns. The more exciting young backup is James Mitchell, an athletic fifth-round rookie out of Virginia Tech. He is recovering from an October ACL tear and appears to be on pace to return in time for training camp.
- LT Taylor Decker
- LG Jonah Jackson
- C Frank Ragnow
- RG Halapoulivaati Vaitai
- RT Penei Sewell
- Tommy Kraemer, Matt Nelson, Logan Stenberg
This underrated group carries three premium players in left tackle Taylor Decker, center Frank Ragnow and right tackle Penei Sewell. Ragnow is the most decorated, a former All-Pro in 2020. The tackles grade as Pro Bowl snubs despite not yet being named to the contest. Jonah Jackson does a solid job at left guard while right guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai is a mauler who can be beaten in pass protection. This line grades inside the Top 10.
The Lions will have a free-for-all at kicker, with three worthy candidates, at least based on last year's results. Seibert, a fifth-round pick of the Browns in 2019 who only held onto the job for a year, hit all five extra point attempts and went 10-of-12 on field goals, making all of his attempts under 40 yards. He isn't a strong kickoff option, but can handle it, and had his season ended by a hip injury last year. Patterson, a 2021 UDFA who was signed from the Patriots practice squad after Seibert went down, hit on all 16 extra point tries and 13-of-14 field goals, with his only miss coming on his only 50+ yard attempt. He doesn't have the leg for kickoffs or distance field goal attempts but proved to be very accurate in his rookie season. Rosas, who was the kicker for the Giants for three seasons, made his only field goal and extra point attempt. He has the strongest leg for kickoffs, giving him an edge if the competition is even otherwise. The losers of the battle here could be considered for a job elsewhere if more than one has a strong summer.
The Lions were predictably one of the worst fantasy defenses in football in 2021. They were at or near the bottom of the league in every team defensive statistic in a rebuilding year. At least they were able to take local hero Aidan Hutchinson at No. 2 in the draft to give them a signature player. A lot of the defense is young and developing and being in the second year of defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn's tenure will only help. The unit could improve enough to be streamable in matchups against Seattle, Chicago, Jacksonville, and the Jets, but there's no reason to take them in a draft unless you are in a 32-team league.
Coach Dan Campbell has gone on record saying that the Lions are going to lineup up with more even man fronts as opposed to odd-man fronts. This means that their base defense will be a 4-3 rather than a 3-4. NFL defenses rarely use a base defense these days, with most teams playing plenty of Nickel and Dime defenses. What it does do is help evaluate the potential draft targets and fitment for the pieces already in place. Manning the center of the defense will likely be a pair of 2021 draft picks in Levi Onwuzurike (2nd round) and Alim McNeill (3rd Round). McNeill was graded as the best interior run defender as well as an interior pass rusher for the Lions in 2021. He is likely to remain on the field on most downs shifting between 1-technique and 3-technique alignments.
There are reasons to be cautiously optimistic about the Lions' edge defenders. The Lions recently cut bait with former free-agent signee defensive end Trey Flowers. He is better off in a 3-4 base defense, and the fact he was cut leads me to believe that the shift to a base 4-3 will be used often. Charles Harris had a resurgence to his game in 2021 and finally looked like the 1st rounder he was drafted to be back in 2017. He also fits a 4-3 scheme much better as a defensive end than a stand-up pass rusher and had his best season as a pro in 2021. Starting next to him will be Aidan Hutchinson, their recently acquired second overall draft pick. He packs elite athleticism, matched with great strength and technique to be a highly effective pass rusher. Hutchinson is quite possibly the most talented player from the 2022 draft class and comes in instantly as the most impactful pass rusher on the Lions' defense.
After McNeill, the interior likely is a rotation between Onwuzurike and Michael Brockers. Brockers had a successful career in Los Angeles, though he could not latch on as a consistent contributor for Detroit. Either one could potentially be a starter or backup, so for all intents and purposes, they are listed with the reserves. Romeo Okwara is rehabbing from a torn Achilles injury sustained last season. Coach Campbell has stated he hopes to have Romeo Okwara back by training camp. His brother Julian Okwara stepped in and played some of his best football in 2021 and should also have a depth role on this line. Both Okwara brothers will likely be stuck behind incoming rookie and second-round pick Josh Paschal out of the University of Kentucky. Paschal is packed with great explosiveness inside of an NFL-ready frame and was graded out as one of the top edge defenders in the 2022 draft class. Even though the Okwara brothers both have played well during their time in Detroit, it looks like a new wave of talent is pushing them down the depth chart.
The linebacker group for the Lions is an underwhelming group at best. What it does provide is some late-round dart throws at the position that could potentially fit well as a solid LB3/4. The linebacker with the biggest upside in the group is second-year linebacker Derrick Barnes. Once the team let Jamie Collins Sr Sr. go, Barnes was thrust into a bigger role and played admirably. Barnes will likely line up as the team's MIKE linebacker in their "base" defense. Next to him playing the WILL linebacker position will be Alex Anzalone. Anzalone played in 14 games last season before injury held him out, starting all 14 games. He was solid, although unspectacular, and should be a mainstay in the starting lineup for at least one more season. Former 1st round pick, Jarrad Davis left the Lions through free agency in 2021 after the Lions decided not to extend Davis after his rookie contract expired. After an uninspiring year with the Jets, Davis resigned with the Lions. Even though he still holds 1st round draft capital, Davis's best years are past him and we know what we have with him. He is a run defender, through and through, nothing else. He is the best bet to lineup up as the team's SAM linebacker in obvious run situations.
Behind this trio, the Lions have decent depth. Josh Woods, Chris Board, and Shaun Dion Hamilton all have experience as a starting linebacker. Woods played 50% or more snaps for this defense twice last year and provided ample depth in a pinch when the team was hammered with injuries. Chris Board was a rotational linebacker with the Ravens last year and also proved he can fill needs when called upon. Shaun Dion Hamilton was a solid sub-package player during his time in Washington. Be more intrigued by the rookie sixth-round pick Malcolm Rodriguez out of Oklahoma State. The main reason being is his ability in coverage. Though small in stature, Rodriguez is big in the passing game which may allow him to see more time on the field with how poorly any other Lions linebacker showed in coverage. The three starters seem locked to start the season, though, with Davis's obvious lack of upside, and Anzalone's ponderous playstyle, do not be surprised if you see the Lions shake up the linebacker group throughout the season to find cohesiveness and upside.
The secondary for the Lions is probably the strongest unit on the defense. Tracy Walker is easily the best-known name in the group. He has 298 tackles over the last three seasons, showing a consistent ability to be around the football. Walker will be starting either at free safety, though his running mate is up for grabs. Running alongside Walker will be one of Will Harris or Deshon Elliot. To start the season it will likely be Will Harris, as the incumbent, starting due to his knowledge of the defense. The Lions have one of the best lockdown cornerbacks in the NFL in budding star Amani Oruwariye. He undoubtedly is one of the starting cornerbacks for 2022. On the other side of the formation, the Lions will be hoping that former 3rd overall selection Jeffery Okudah can make the leap, and stay healthy, to form one of the brightest young cornerback duos in the league. A.J. Parker will look to retain his slot role after playing 450 snaps in that role for 2021.
Elliott will be the extra defensive back when the team plays nickel and dime defense. Harris and Elliot's roles could easily flip flop throughout the season, as neither has a clear advantage over the other. Elliott and Harris will also be challenged by rookie third-round pick Kerby Joseph out of Illinois. Joseph is more of a project, still learning the safety position, though he brings elite length and ball-hawking ability to the position group. He may prove over time to be the most talented safety on the team after Tracy Walker, though he will need some time. For depth at the cornerback, the Lions have Jerry Jacobs who played 535 snaps (446 wide) last season in lieu of the Okudah injury. They also have Ifeatu Melifonwu who will be looking to make his mark. He is an athletic freak, though more of a project technique-wise.