We’ve reached the portion of our countdown of the Detroit Lions’ full roster where we’re almost exclusively talking about starters. These are the players who will mean the difference between success and failure on Sundays (and on one Thursday).
For the most part, expectations are pretty high for this group. Sure, there are a few who will need to make a significant jump in play this year to justify their spot on this list, but there are reasons for that optimism for just about every one of the.
Looking back on last year’s list of the players ranked 20-11, the top half of the list was full of warranted names, but it also included guys like Quinton Dunbar, Tyrell Williams, and Darren Fells, none of which remain with the Lions today. In fact, none of those three players are even signed to another team right now.
But let’s look forward to this year. Here are the 10 players we ranked between 20 and 11 on our list.
- Players ranked 89-81
- Players ranked 80-71
- Players ranked 70-61
- Players ranked 60-51
- Players ranked 50-41
- Players ranked 40-31
- Players ranked 30-21
20. G Halapoulivaati Vaitai (Highest ranking: 11; Lowest ranking: 32)
Last year, Vaitai dropped from 19 to 26, and this year he almost made up all those spots. While Vaitai is the clear weak link on the Lions’ impressive offensive line, he clearly found the best place for his skill set at right guard. Vaitai is an aggressive run blocker with a strong first punch, but he remains a liability in pass protection. That said, when you’re standing in between one of the best centers in the league and an up-and-coming right tackle who may already be top-10 at his position, you should be alright.
19. QB Jared Goff (Highest: 17; Lowest: 21)
Last year, not a single voter had Goff lower than 15 on their list. This year, no one has him higher than 17.
It’s hard to say this was a direct reaction to how Goff played last year. For the most part, expectations were pretty low for Goff already. That said, sometimes you need to see it up close to believe it. The positive spin here is that the top of the Lions’ roster is stronger, forcing Goff further down the roster.
That said, there is hope renewed for Goff, as Detroit has been catering its entire offense to him—whether it be the speedy weapons they’ve added or new offensive coordinator Ben Johnson collaborating with his quarterback on what to bring to the offense.
18. CB Jeff Okudah (Highest: 11; Lowest: 25)
Okudah has slipped from nine to 13 to now 18. With just 10 games under his belt in two years, time is running out for the former third overall pick to prove his worth in the NFL. His inspirational rehabilitation from his torn Achilles clearly has left some of the Pride of Detroit staff hopeful for a comeback story, but if the first few practices of training camp are any indication, Okudah will not be handed anything from this coaching staff. He’ll have to earn a spot back in the starting lineup.
17. RB Jamaal Williams (Highest: 12; Lowest: 24)
Williams’ slide in this countdown is a bit hard to understand. Last year, Williams was an effective runner and a fan favorite. His yards per carry (3.9) were the lowest since 2018, but he actually produced higher DVOA numbers and PFF grades than D’Andre Swift, suggesting he was more efficient with his touches.
Maybe the team is just better?
16. EDGE Charles Harris (Highest: 14; Lowest: 22)
Last year, Charles Harris was the lottery ticket that few expected to work out. He had just 6.5 sacks in his first four seasons and was firmly on the roster bubble.
Harris not only made the team, but when the injury bug hit, Harris was without a doubt the Lions’ best defensive player for the entire season. He tallied 7.5 sacks despite seeing an exceptionally high double team rate. With improved parts around him, Harris is poised for an even bigger 2022 season.
15. DT Alim McNeill (Highest: 8; Lowest: 23)
McNeill had a modest rookie season, at times flashing the disruptive force the Lions banked on getting, but other times disappearing for portions of the game.
But with the Lions’ more attacking defensive front in 2022, expectations have skyrocketed for McNeill in Year 2. He’s likely to get a very high percentage of carries due to his unique ability to play anywhere from the nose to the 4i, and he, too, will benefit from more talent on the defensive front.
14. CB Amani Oruwariye (Highest: 13; Lowest: 15)
Last year was a breakout season for Oruwariye. It’s easy to point to the six interceptions as his biggest area of growth, but his overall coverage skills have never been better than they were after the bye week last season. Forget the interceptions for a second. From Week 10-15, Oruwariye posted a 69.6 PFF grade, which was good for 29th out of 66 qualifying cornerbacks.
If he can show that kind of consistency for an entire season, Oruwariye could very well earn himself a big payday next year when he’s set to become a free agent (if he doesn’t get an extension before then).
13. EDGE Romeo Okwara (Highest: 9; Lowest: 20)
On one hand, Okwara clearly plummeted in these rankings due to a killer Achilles injury. On the other hand, I’m not sure he would’ve cracked the top-five again given this team’s improvement at the top of the roster.
Still, Okwara does not appear close to returning to football quite yet and seems likely to miss time due to the injury. Even when he comes back, there’s no guarantee his athleticism comes back. Still, Okwara has the smarts and tenacity to make a comeback. It’s just a matter of when.
12. WR DJ Chark (Highest: 9; Lowest: 13)
Last year’s ranking: N/A
The Lions’ biggest free agency addition this fall lands just out of the top-10. Chark was given a one-year prove-it deal after battling through injuries at Jacksonville. You can already tell he’s a good personality fit with the Lions, and he’s much happier here.
If Chark can regain all of his speed after suffering a broken ankle last year—and early indications suggest he has—the veteran wide receiver could be both a deep threat and a sneaky short-yardage weapon.
11. RB D’Andre Swift (Highest: 6; Lowest: 19)
After battling through more injuries and coming up short of expectations, Swift has dropped out of the top 10. The Lions have mentally challenged him all offseason to battle through nicks and bruises and take care of his body, and thus far he has met those challenges.
It’s clear Dan Campbell believes Swift can be an elite weapon for this team.
“It goes without saying, Swift is one of our most explosive players on offense,” Campbell this week. “Like literally, we feel like, ‘Alright man, if we set this up right and there’s any space, this guy can take it to the house.’ He’s got that ability, and so my gosh man, you want those guys out there every play.”
It’s easy to see the potential, but without a full season of results, it’s clear the POD staff has some skepticism.