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The 2019 Detroit Lions relied on rookies more than most NFL teams

The Lions were a very young, inexperienced team in 2019.

New York Giants v Detroit Lions Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

There are many reasons the Detroit Lions’ season went poorly. They suffered a ton of injuries. Their pass rush was horrible. They had questionable coaching decisions that both directly and indirectly caused the team to blow so many leads.

When a team like the Lions lose so many close games, it’s often said that they need to “learn to win.” Whether that’s a real thing or not remains to be seen, but the NFL has repeatedly shown us that inexperience is one of the worst qualities you can have.

And as it turns out, the Lions had a lot of inexperience on their roster in 2019:

The first thing that should jump out at you is just how poor all 10 of these teams are. None of these teams made the playoffs and six of the 10 finished in the bottom 10 in draft order. Translation: playing rookies does not lead to success

When it comes to the Lions specifically, here are the rookies that played the most for Detroit. (Snap counts provided by pro-football-reference)


  • T.J. Hockenson (525 snaps)
  • David Blough (319)
  • Ty Johnson (311)
  • Travis Fulgham (63)
  • Isaac Nauta (41)


  • Will Harris (667)
  • Jahlani Tavai (597)
  • Amani Oruwariye (215)
  • Kevin Strong (172)
  • Austin Bryant (133)

What’s interesting about this fact is that the Lions also played several players who weren’t technically rookies, but still getting their first true looks in the NFL. That includes defensive tackle John Atkins (409 snaps, previously had 40 total), Tyrell Crosby (397 snaps, 128 previously), Frank Herron (103 snaps, 0 previously), Bo Scarbrough (167 snaps, 0 previously), Nick Bawden (124 snaps, 0 previously) and Chris Lacy (128 snaps, 35 previously).

Additionally, you can see that the majority of the Lions’ rookie snaps came on defense. That certainly isn’t surprising, given how poorly that unit performed in 2019.

Lions general manager Bob Quinn spoke about the team’s youth this week, and believes it’s evidence of a foundation worth building upon.

“We’re playing with—we signed 14 players off of our practice squad this year, three players off other team’s practice squads, and all those guys were playing a decent role yesterday (vs. Packers). So, I’m proud of those guys. I see that foundation,” Quinn said.

Thanks to injuries and limited depth, the Lions had to play a lot of inexperienced players in 2019. If you’re an optimist, you’ll probably look at that and think with a more experienced roster, this team could be much better in 2020. If you’re a pessimist, you’ll wonder why this team has had so much trouble building reliable depth since Bob Quinn took over as general manager.

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