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Lions vs. Falcons preview: Preseason Week 1 expectations for the rookies

The preseason is the first of many tests for the Lions’ 2022 rookie class. Expectations are high, and the season kicks off with the Atlanta Falcons coming to town.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

The beginning of August is when nearly every team in the NFL believes they have a shot at success. Fan bases do all they can to convince themselves that this could finally be the year.

While most would agree that the Detroit Lions are not currently in a position to compete for championships, many appear to be jumping on the bandwagon. Despite only winning three games in 2021, the national media has largely been supportive of general manager Brad Holmes and coach Dan Campbell as they embark on year two of their rebuild.

HBO’s “Hard Knocks” has only added fuel to the fire, with the renowned series putting the Lions’ players and coaching staff directly in the national spotlight. And beyond all of the interesting personalities on Campbell’s staff, there is plenty of intrigue surrounding the Lions’ young core of players—including their 2022 draft class.

Let’s take a look at the expectations surrounding each rookie as they face off against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 1 of the preseason.

Aidan Hutchinson

As if being the number two overall pick in the 2022 NFL draft doesn’t come with enough pressure, Hutchinson is a hometown product that just wrapped up a very storied career at the University of Michigan. Still, this is the NFL, and acclimating can take time, even for players as talented as Hutchinson.

Against the Falcons, I expect the rookie defensive end to hold his own for as long as the first-team defense is on the field. It would be nice to seem him moved around a bit, taking snaps as a closed-end, as well as as inside rusher on passing downs.

After a few weeks of camp where he has been honing his skills against the likes of second-year offensive tackle Penei Sewell, Hutchinson is likely ready to try his luck against someone other than Sewell and veteran tackle Taylor Decker.

Jameson Williams

Williams remains on the Non-Football Injury list and will not play Friday.

Josh Paschal

With Paschal still on the Physically Unable to Perform list, he will not play vs. the Falcons.

Kerby Joseph

Coming out of the University of Illinois, Kerby Joseph was said to have NFL-ready ball skills and playmaking chops, but would need work in other areas in order to be a complete NFL safety.

Throughout most of training camp, Joseph has been repping with the second-team and third-team defense, oftentimes next to second-year defensive back Ifeatu Melifonwu. This pairing offers plenty of length, youth, and playmaking ability, but lacks in experience at the position.

Assuming Joseph is on the field for several series against the Falcons, I would love to see him play the run well. We know Joseph possesses strong instincts as a deep safety, but making strides as a run defender would do a lot for Joseph’s case to play during the 2022 regular season.

James Mitchell

There may not be a more wide open battle in camp right now than there currently is at tight end two. Beyond starter T.J. Hockenson, everything is very much up in the air at both the second, and third tight end positions.

Mitchell, a fifth-round pick out of Virginia Tech, tore his ACL back in September of 2021, resulting in his draft stock taking a hit. Now recovered, he should get plenty of chances to make plays against Atlanta.

After Hockenson and the starters exit the game, I will be keeping an eye on Mitchell. If he can quickly establish himself as a reliable player, both as a pass-catcher and as a blocker, it would do wonders to solidify an otherwise unsettled position.

Malcolm Rodriguez

The hype surrounding Rodriguez has seemingly reached a fever pitch, and we aren’t even halfway through August yet. His dance moves may have played a part in his early popularity, but I like to think most of the buzz comes from how he carries himself on the field.

Although undersized by many traditional linebacker standards (5-foot-11, 230 pounds), Rodriguez is quick to read, react, and get downhill—something that is paramount for defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn’s defense to function properly. The coaching staff has spoken at length about how they need linebackers to process what they are seeing quickly, and hit their gap, hard.

Already taking reps with the first and second units in practice, I expect Rodriguez to get plenty of looks against the Falcons. Seeing how he functions within a defense for an extended period of time should allow coaches to see just how viable of a plan it is to feature Rodriguez on defense when the regular season arrives.

James Houston

Nicknamed “the problem”, Jackson State’s James Houston should be able to cause some issues against the Falcons. The majority of his reps will likely come against some of the reserve tackles on Atlanta’s roster, which should give Houston plenty of chances to do what he did best in college—get after the quarterback.

Listed at just 6-foot-1 and 241 pounds, the rookie edge rusher will have to find unique ways to win in the NFL, where he will almost always be giving up a lot of size against professional offensive tackles.

Being stout against the run and being able to set an edge would help Houston’s case to see meaningful snaps once September arrives, and the games begin to matter.

Chase Lucas

Similar to the battle for the second tight end on the roster, nickelback is another competition that appears to be wide open. And right in the thick of that competition is rookie cornerback Chase Lucas.

Lucas isn’t your typical late round draft pick. He is already 25 years old, started 49 games in college, and was named captain in 2021 during his final season at Arizona State.

Smart, experienced, and instinctive—Lucas has flashed several times during training camp, and if he can continue to build on that against the Falcons, he may find himself in the lead for that starting nickel job.

When he is out there with the second or third team defense, I expect him to act as a leader of sorts, helping others get where they are supposed to be pre-snap.

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