What a difference a few months of an offseason makes. At the start of it all, the Detroit Lions were a team that desperately needed upgrades, depth and better health. Now that the dust is beginning to settle, the Lions may have all three of those things in spades.
The Lions offense started to catch fire towards the end of last season. With a couple key offseason moves, they could take a huge step next season. Let's take a look at the Lions drastic improvements position-by-position and see just how dangerous this team could be in 2022.
In case you missed the draft because you got knocked out in a horrible accident or you chose to ignore the football world the entire weekend, the Lions did not draft a quarterback in this year’s NFL Draft. After a year of speculation and every national media outlet forcing a quarterback to the Lions in their mock drafts, the Lions chose to stay put with Jared Goff.
Whether that’s a good or bad thing is certainly up for debate. On one side, Goff had a very bad first half to his first season with the Lions. There were times where he genuinely looked like the worst quarterback in the NFL. But in the second half of the season, he really came through and looked very much like a guy who was picked first overall in the NFL Draft. The result of that saw the Lions begin to win some games.
One of the big things that held back Jared Goff in 2021 was the Lions’ lack of a talented receiving corps and the constant injuries that surrounded Goff. Along with that, offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn just didn’t seem to mesh with what the Lions were trying to do early in the season.
That all changed when Dan Campbell took over the play calling. The Lions suddenly became a fast-paced and flashy offense that was running exciting trick plays and throwing the ball downfield.
It’s likely going to be hard for Lions fans to get over that first half of the season with Goff, but that second half really showed what he could do when he has confidence and a coaching staff that believes in him and trusts him. The Lions just have to see where this goes.
But how will Goff respond to a year of heavy expectations? There are no more excuses for him in 2022.
Detroit has an out in Goff’s contract after the 2022 season, and they could absolutely use it if they feel Goff isn’t up to the challenge of being this team’s starting quarterback going forward. If Goff thrives in 2022, the Lions have their man and they can continue along their path with a giant piece of the team sewed up.
In 2021, the Lions’ receiving corps was big mess until Amon-Ra St. Brown suddenly became a very good player in the second half of the season. They brought in Tyrell Williams and Breshad Perriman to lead the receiving room, but Williams only wound up playing one game for the Lions and Perriman was cut before the season started. The team then cycled through a number of receivers who either came off the practice squad or had only ever been used sparingly elsewhere. That all changed this offseason.
The Lions got St. Brown coming back after a big rookie year that saw him setting records Calvin Johnson didn’t even break. St. Brown is on the verge of becoming a big star in Detroit. He showed that he could do whatever asked of him in 2021, and now that he has around him, he should be able to go through the season without a big target on his chest from opposing defenses. He’s not the only weapon anymore.
The big game changers are DJ Chark and Jameson Williams. Chark is a former Pro Bowler and can do big things when healthy. Speaking of healthy, if 12th overall pick Jameson Williams’ ACL heals up by camp, he’s going to be a real problem for defenses in the NFL. Williams’ ridiculous speed gives the Lions a chance to take the top off of defenses and add the big plays they were missing all of last year.
They also brought back Josh Reynolds, who has a background with Goff and looked pretty good after Detroit added him midseason in 2021. The team also brought back speedy receiver Kalif Raymond who made a couple big plays in 2021. Lastly there’s the return of Quintez Cephus from injury. Cephus looked on the verge of a potential breakout before suffering a broken collarbone early in the season. He should get a shot to do some things in 2022.
Depth is a very important thing in the NFL, and now the Lions have plenty of it at this position.
Nothing changed here for the Lions in terms of player acquisition. The Lions have their top guy in D’Andre Swift and with a new receiving corps en tout, Swift should see some pressure relieved in 2022.
Along with Swift, Jamaal Williams is returning after a decent first season with the Lions and preseason favorite Craig Reynolds is back, too. Again, the Lions have depth in another important place. It just goes a long way during an 17-game season.
T.J. Hockenson should be jumping for joy about what the Lions offense did this offseason. Early on in the 2021 season, it was clear to everyone in the world that Goff trusted Hockenson and... well, mostly just Hockneson. This hurt Hockenson more than it helped. He became a target out there and everyone knew where the ball was likely going. Then Hockenson’s season ended early after an injury. It was a real slump season after making the Pro Bowl the year before.
Now he’s back and the Lions have picked up his fifth-year option. Hockenson could return to form immediately thanks to the Lions’ new receiving corps.
Rookie fifth-round pick James Mitchell is a favorite of mine. He’s a player I mocked to the Lions several time during the offseason. What drew me to him was the same thing that drew me Jaylen Samuels or Dan Vitale. Mitchell is a player who can do multiple things. Virginia Tech used Mitchell as a tight end, an inside and outside receiver, a running back and even an occasional punt returner.
The Lions got themselves a steal in the fifth round. If Mitchell had not of suffered an ACL injury in 2021, there’s a good chance he may have been taken a round or two earlier.
The biggest difference here for the Lions is health. This offensive line was actually pretty good in 2021 despite missing Taylor Decker for the first half of the season and Pro Bowl center Frank Ragnow for 14 games. They’ll be full health going into camp in July.
Ragnow being back can’t be understated. He’s one of the best, if not the best, centers in the NFL. Ragnow being back also makes Evan Brown a big utility coming off the bench. The Lions managed to hold on to Brown in free agency after he successfully held down the fort at center last season. Brown can play just about anywhere along the interior. This was a great victory for Brad Holmes and company.
At tackle, the Lions get Taylor Decker back after a successful few seasons with the Lions. He’s been a very reliable player for years now. Then there’s last year’s first-round pick Penei Sewell—a guy who PFF had ranked as one of the league's best 25 tackles in the league during his rookie season. The 21-year-old is only going to get better.
The Lions are going to be very exciting to watch in 2022. There’s still work to be done on the other side of the ball, but Detroit should be just about good to go with this group this coming season.