Not only was the Detroit Lions’ 2019 season a disappointment, but their draft class underwhelmed as well. If the Lions want to become contenders next season, they will need these players to step up.
First-round pick T.J. Hockenson shined in his debut against the Arizona Cardinals, but he never reached those heights again this season, capped off with a stint on the Injured Reserve list. Jahlani Tavai will likely be the Lions’ Rookie of the Year, but that speaks more to the poor or limited play from the other rookies. Will Harris had some shining moments, but it was otherwise a poor debut season for the safety. Austin Bryant spent most of the season on the Injured Reserve and did little when he was active. Amani Oruwariye performed well on limited snaps, but the question remains if he is ready for a starting role next year. Travis Fulgham was on the practice squad for most of the year. Ty Johnson had a prime opportunity to lead the backfield once Kerryon Johnson got hurt, but struggled. Isaac Nauta was converted to fullback late in the season and was unremarkable. PJ Johnson did not make the team.
It is not fair to expect breakout seasons from rookies, but on a 3-12-1 Lions’ team, their failures are also to blame. Battered and bruised by injuries, the Lions needed these players to step up. That being said, there is plenty of room for them to grow.
Today’s Question of the Day is:
Which Lions rookie will improve the most next season?
My answer: I believe Amani Oruwariye can improve the most in 2020.
Oruwariye started the season with a lingering knee injury, but once he got healthy, he took over from a struggling Rashaan Melvin. He was beat on a few plays, but as a rookie making his debut in Week 11, that can be attributed to inexperience. He notched two interceptions as well, which was tied for the team lead with Darius Slay. How he performs next season hinges on whether or not Slay returns next season. Starting across from Slay next season is a reasonable expectation, but if Slay leaves, being the Lions’ top corner could be too much to ask.
As for the other rookies, Hockenson has all the talent to turn into an elite tight end. Tight ends are notorious for quiet rookie seasons, and Hockenson is still far from being a bust. The Lions’ passing attack might see a reshuffle next season, but Hockenson figures to contribute heavily. Still, in a Darrell Bevell-led offense, temper your expectations.
There are two undrafted free agent rookies that I believe could also see an uptick next season. C.J. Moore contributed heavily on special teams, but also saw action on defense due to a depleted secondary. He could battle with Harris for additional snaps next year, given the Lions’ preference for three safeties. Defensive tackle Kevin Strong is also a candidate to improve. The Lions have plenty of questions on the defensive interior, from Damon Harrison’s potential retirement to A’Shawn Robinson’s and Mike Daniels’ free agency. Strong could benefit from their departures.