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Rookie check-in: Tracking the progress of the Detroit Lions’ 9 2019 draft picks

How have the Lions’ rookies fared through 3 weeks of the preseason?

New England Patriots v Detroit Lions Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Detroit Lions 2019 draft class has some high expectations to live up to. Last year, the Lions’ rookie class was nothing short of great. The team got solid contributions from the top four picks, and two others could make big strides this year.

General manager Bob Quinn bought some good will with that draft class, but will he be able to do it in back-to-back years? After one week of the preseason, we’re far from knowing the answer to that, but let’s take a look at the progress of the Lions’ nine draft picks.

Round 1. TE T.J. Hockenson

Preseason Game 1 stats: 6 snaps played, 0 targets

Hockenson didn’t play much against the New England Patriots and Tom Savage never looked his way once. Hockenson did get a few snaps as a blocker, and he flashed a little in that area:

Though his preseason game was underwhelmingly short, his performance in training camp has been nothing short of stellar. His ability to catch balls in tight coverage have displayed his strong hands and extreme focus when targeted.

Round 2. LB Jahlani Tavai

Preseason stats: 4 snaps, 0 stats recorded

Tavai barely saw the field against the Patriots, but according to color commentator Chris Spielman, on one play he had bad pad level, on the next he had good pad level. So there you go.

Overall, Tavai is still a relative unknown. He’s made some plays in training camp—including at least a couple interceptions—but he’s also shown some of the inconsistencies you’d expect from a rookie: misreads, coverage issues, things of that nature (Get well soon, Caldwell).

So far, Tavai’s play has exceeded the expectations of a skeptical fanbase, but it’s too early to make any sweeping judgements.

Round 3. S Will Harris

Preseason stats: 57 snaps, 4 tackles

Harris has had a rough camp, struggling in man coverage in particular. In zone, he also looks a step late. The more I see of him, the more it looks like Detroit shouldn’t have any immediate plans for him in the lineup. Lucky for them, they have the safety depth to accommodate that.

Obviously, the Lions felt he could use the in-game reps, as only three other Lions played more last Thursday against the Patriots. Though Harris finished with four tackles, he didn’t stand out much in the preseason opener.

Round 4. EDGE Austin Bryant

Preseason stats: Did not play

Bryant suffered an injury in the first week of training camp and has not returned since. A couple weeks ago, head coach Matt Patricia called his situation “day-to-day,” but Bryant looks like he’s at least a couple weeks away from returning. There’s a good chance we don’t see him at all this preseason.

Round 5. CB Amani Oruwariye

Preseason stats: 57 snaps, 6 tackles, 2 passes defended

Oruwariye’s preseason performance was a perfect example of what we’ve seen from him in camp: flashes of great coverage and ball-hawking abilities, but with a ton of poor coverage mixed in between. Oruwariye gave up one touchdown on Thursday, and while he was in decent position to make a play, he made the poor mistake of turning the wrong way:

The key to playing cornerback is consistency, and it’s no surprise Oruwariye doesn’t have that yet.

Injuries have given Oruwariye the opportunity to get some first-team reps in training camp, which is invaluable experience for the rookie.

Round 6. WR Travis Fulgham

Preseason stats: 24 snaps, 1 target, 0 receptions

It’s been a fairly quiet camp for the Old Dominion product. As the Lions continue their search for receiver depth in the wake of Jermaine Kearse’s season-ending injury, Fulgham has a great shot at making the final roster. And with some veteran players taking days off, he’s even gotten a crack at some first-team reps.

Fulgham has shown that he’s great at the point of catch and can outjump some of the smaller corners in practice. However, he’s still a raw route runner, and that has really slowed his production at camp.

Round 6. RB Ty Johnson

Preseason stats: 13 snaps, 3 rushes, 22 yards

If there was a Player of the Game to be chosen on Thursday night for Detroit, it was Ty Johnson. The speedy running back had two 10+ yard runs against the Patriots, though one was called back due to an iffy holding call.

Johnson’s quickness is easy to spot on the practice field, and his vision seems good. After Detroit released Theo Riddick, Johnson’s path to the 53-man roster looks like a near-certainty. It’s unclear what kind of role he would have in this offense, though, and it doesn’t look like he’s getting serious consideration as the team’s starting kick returner. At the very least, he’ll be an exciting guy to watch for the rest of the preseason.

Round 7. TE Isaac Nauta

Preseason stats: 14 snaps, 0 catches, 1 drop

Much like Ty Johnson, Nauta has a much clearer path to make the team after the Lions cut Michael Roberts. There’s no guarantee the former Georgia Bulldog makes it, though. He’s made a handful of plays in camp, including a phenomenal catch during the scrimmage at Ford Field, but like many rookies, Nauta has been plagued by inconsistency.

He had a bad drop over the weekend—and another in the preseason game—and his blocking has, quite literally, been hit or miss. The promise is there, though, and he certainly seems like he’s currently headed for a roster spot.

Round 7. DT P.J. Johnson

Preseason stats: 36 snaps, 2 tackles, 1 QB hit

As a nose tackle, it’s hard to get noticed in any way. Often, your job is to simply occupy blockers. You don’t rack up a ton of sacks. You don’t get tally a ton of tackles for loss. You just maintain the middle gaps and try to free up space for the other defenders.

How has Johnson done at accomplishing that goal thus far? Not bad, by any measure. But given all of the injuries on the Lions’ defensive front, you’d hope Johnson would be getting more first-team reps by now. Instead, the Lions are relying on guys like 2018 UDFA John Atkins or even 2019 UDFAs Fred Jones and Kevin Strong.

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