The 2022 NFL Playoffs begin on Saturday with two AFC Super Wild Card matchups. The first game will feature (5) Las Vegas Raiders at (4) Cincinnati Bengals at 4:30 p.m. ET on NBC, followed by (6) New England Patriots at (3) Buffalo Bills at 8:15 p.m. ET on CBS.
While the front office is currently addressing their own potential free agents, and college scouts are preparing for the draft, their pro scouting department should have eyes on the playoffs, scouting for potential future Lions.
Here are four potential 2022 free agents—one from each team—that the Lions should be watching during Saturday’s games.
Raiders: Zay Jones, WR (6-foot-2, 200)
If the Lions fail to retain Josh Reynolds, Jones could be a viable option to replace him. While the Lions will surely be in the market for a top receiver in free agency or the draft (maybe both?) they will also need players capable of pushing for a starting role.
Jones signed a relatively palatable deal with the Raiders this past offseason—one year, $2.5 million—but he is having the best year of his career, especially of late. After spending most of the season in a complementary role, Jones started to make some noise around Thanksgiving, and over the past month, he’s proven to be a reliable starter.
Bengals: Jessie Bates III, FS (6-foot-1, 200)
In 2020, Bates earned an overall season grade of 90.1 from PFF, and heading into the final year of his rookie deal, he rightfully went to the Bengals and asked for an extension. They opted to spend money elsewhere and it’s fair to wonder if that will come back to bite them this offseason.
Unfortunately, 2021 wasn't as kind to Bates and he earned the lowest PFF grade of his career (56.2 overall). Despite the drop in production this season, he is dripping with upside and should be one of the top safeties on the market—in the conversation with Marcus Williams, Tyrann Mathieu, Marcus Maye, and Quandre Diggs.
There is still the possibility that Bates will be franchise tagged by the Bengals, but if he isn’t, the 25-year-old should get a long look from the Lions.
Patriots: Ted Karras, IOL (6-foot-4, 305)
Karras—nephew of Lions legend Alex Karras—is wrapping up his sixth year in the NFL, having started the last three. Originally drafted in the sixth round by the Patriots, he stepped into starting role at center after the starter David Andrews landed on injured reserve in 2019. Karras played well, earning a slightly above-average grade from PFF (66.5), and used that success to sign a one-year deal with the Miami Dolphins. He started one year at center with the Dolphins, earning another solid but average score for PFF (65.3), but exited this past offseason and returned to the Patriots.
In 2021, his return to the Patriots was as a clear reserve, and his contract reflected that, signing just a one-year deal that eventually paid out at just under $3 million after game bonuses. He opened the year only playing special teams, but in Week 3, he took over at left guard due to injuries on the interior offensive line. He would go on to start at right guard over the next two weeks before shifting back to left guard for the remainder of the season.
Karras would be an ideal replacement for Evan Brown if the Lions are unable to retain the restricted free agent. He has starting experience at all three interior spots, is often viewed and paid like a reserve, yet still earned very favorable grades from PFF—this past season he registered an overall grade of 73.0 from PFF.
Bills: Levi Wallace, CB (6-foot-0, 180)
The Bills opted not to use a restricted rights tender on Wallace this past offseason, instead, signing him a one-year $1.7 million contract. That is a startlingly low number for a starting corner who is still just 26-years-old and has consistently solid overall grades from PFF—65.2, 68.3, and 68.6 the last three years as a starter.
He’s not flashy, he averages two interceptions a season as a starter, but he can hold down a starting role and his cost should be reasonable. With question marks surrounding Jeff Okudah and Jerry Jacobs’ ability to return from injury in time for the season, the Lions could be in the market for a young, inexpensive option with starting potential, who could hold down the fort while Ifeatu Melifonwu further develops.