By many analysts’ accounts, the Detroit Lions came out winners of the 2022 NFL Draft. They received some of the highest composite grades, and with two top-12 picks in this year’s class—and both an Offensive Rookie of the Year and Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate—it’s hard not to get excited as a Lions fan.
But let’s look closer at the Lions roster and see which players already inside the building were winners this past weekend. That’s right, I’m talking about the players who benefitted most from the Lions’ draft picks—or in some cases, what picks Detroit didn’t make.
Here are the Lions’ five biggest winners from the 2022 NFL Draft.
Not only did Goff not have to watch his replacement get drafted by the Lions, but they gave him the speediest, most exciting offensive weapon in this draft. Jameson Williams gives Goff the big play threat they missed all of last season. In Los Angeles, Goff was at his best when he had big play threats (ie: Brandon Cooks and Robert Woods). Now he has Williams and DJ Chark. It would be fair to say that Goff had the best weekend of any Detroit Lions player.
Hockenson is not far behind Goff, and it’s for the exact same reason. The addition of Williams should open up so much more for the Lions tight end. With a speedy players who can take the top off the defense, any player who can work over the middle of the field in the intermediate range is going to see clearer lanes. So that means in addition to Hockenson, Amon-Ra St. Brown will benefit, as will D’Andre Swift.
But Hockenson will benefit especially. Last year was a mild disappointment for the fourth-year tight end. He developed an innate chemistry with Goff, but because Detroit lacked any true complementary weapons—until St. Brown broke out when Hockenson was sidelined—defenses keyed in on him. Once Williams hits the field, expect Hockenson’s efficiency to rise.
Many have wondered if the Lions would consider moving on from the veteran offensive lineman should a younger, cheaper option come along. Cutting Vaitai would save the Lions over $3.5 million in cap space. However, Detroit didn’t add an offensive lineman in the draft nor in free agency.
Truth is, this team likes Vaitai more than the general public. He had a decent enough year last season, and he proved to be a great mentor for Penei Sewell in his rookie year. While his roster spot may less secure next year when his cap hit jumps to $11.2 million, he’s completely safe this year and should be expected to start.
The Lions waited until sixth round to draft a linebacker, which means Barnes is likely lined up for a starting role in 2022. But that’s not the main reason he stands to benefit from Detroit’s draft. The Lions invested in two edge rushers who are disruptors in the run game with Aidan Hutchinson and Josh Paschal. Combine that with last year’s investments in defensive tackles, and suddenly Detroit’s front four is an extremely formidable unit that should clear lanes for the linebacking crew to raise hell in the offensive backfield. Just listen to how defensive line coach Todd Wash explained the schematic changes on that side of the ball.
“We were a read front last year. Now we’re attacking,” Wash told DetroitLions.com after the draft. “We’re getting off the ball and playing at the heels of the offensive line. It’s going to have us be more physical and aggressive up front.”
An attacking front will allow Barnes to do what he does best: run free and attack. He could have a big Year 2 jump.
The Lions didn’t add much cornerback competition this year, which means if Jeff Okudah is ready to go by training camp—and it sure looks like he’s close—he’ll have a fair chance to win back a starting job. The Lions did add Mike Hughes—a versatile piece that may be headed for the nickelback job—and draft Chase Lucas in the seventh round, but neither should impact Okudah’s chances at winning the job.
On top of that, Okudah, and the rest of the Lions’ secondary, may not have to hold up for five seconds every play anymore now that the Lions made serious investments in their pass rush. Not only will the Lions have Hutchinson and Paschal in the rotation, but Detroit decided to bring back Charles Harris, and if Romeo Okwara is ready to go, suddenly one of their weaker units from last year becomes a strength. The secondary has got to feel good about that.