Let’s take a closer look at the Week 18 stock report.
Stock Up: Hank Fraley
This can be said about a few coaches on the Lions’ coaching staff, but Hank Fraley deserves a lot of praise for the work he did during a season where injuries and youth surely didn’t make his job easy.
Prior to the season starting, it was widely believed that the offensive line would be the best unit on this Lions team. They had arguably the best center in football in Frank Ragnow for all of four weeks before losing him for the season with a foot injury. Their plan to start seventh overall pick Penei Sewell at right tackle was quickly foiled when left tackle Taylor Decker was ruled out days before the season opener against the San Francisco 49ers. Other starters missed time throughout the season, giving opportunities to young, unproven players like center Evan Brown and UDFA rookie Tommy Kraemer.
And the crazy thing is, despite all of the issues above, this was still the best unit on the team. Brown and Kraemer performed better than expected during their time on the field. Naturally, Sewell had lofty expectations coming in as a rookie that many experts labeled as a “can’t-miss” tackle prospect. And if you ask most of those people, they would tell you he surpassed those expectations.
At the end of the Packers game, the Lions really had to shuffle the offensive line deck when backup center Evan Brown was sidelined with an injury, sliding guard Jonah Jackson to center, replacing another rookie in Ryan McCollum, who was having a tough day against a stout Green Bay front.
And it worked out, as the Lions were able to run the ball more effectively down the stretch on their way to a win against Green Bay.
Kudos to Hank Fraley. He kept the boat steady when things really could have gotten rocky.
Stock Up: Jared Goff
What a difference a couple of months make.
Jared Goff had another strong performance against the Packers, finishing 21-of-30 for 238 yards and two touchdowns.
But to me, some of the best parts of the game for Goff don’t show up in the box score.
There were a couple of occasions where Goff was able to buy just enough time to throw the ball away, rather than take a drive-killing sack, something that plagued Goff earlier in the year. Another down, he side stepped an edge rusher, climbed the pocket and delivered a quick strike to rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown for a first down.
Sure, he still had some misfires and some throws he’d like to have back. But nearly every quarterback does on a weekly basis, save for a few in that elite tier of passer. And while many will point to the turning point being when head coach Dan Campbell took over play-calling duties, we also have to acknowledge Goff’s improved confidence and poise in the pocket.
I’m not completely sold on Goff as the quarterback of the future for this team as they continue their rebuilding efforts in 2022 and beyond, but I am significantly more hopeful about Goff’s abilities than I was back in October.
Stock Up: Tracy Walker
If you ask anyone who really covers the Lions, they will tell you Tracy Walker had a hell of a year. 108 tackles, one sack, one game-sealing interception, six pass breakups and several highlight-worthy hits. Walker was one of the few players in the Lions’ secondary to be healthy for the majority of the year, and since he was also one of the only players with any NFL experience, he was leaned on - heavily.
Defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn relied on Walker to get players in position pre-snap, and he often acted as the clean up guy on the back end of the defense. To put it simply, Walker had a lot on his plate.
He capped off his fourth and final year of his rookie contract with 14 total tackles and a pass breakup. But if you were to ask Tracy Walker about his game, he would likely talk about the tackle that he didn’t make, the one that led to a 62-yard touchdown by Packers’ tight end Josiah Deguara.
And a mindset like that, after a strong performance where he made the play to effectively end the Packers’ shot at a comeback, speaks volumes to his growth as the unquestioned leader of the Lions’ secondary.