Week 1 of the NFL preseason is always a strange time. It feels like forever since any football has been played, and although preseason standings mean literally nothing, it’s an exciting feeling to have football back—even if we won’t get the real thing for nearly another month.
As expected, there were varying workloads for the Lions’ 2022 rookie class. Let’s take a look at how each member fared during their first exhibition game as professionals.
Aidan Hutchinson, DL
11 defensive snaps (20%)
PFF defensive grade: 88.0
In his debut as a Lion at Ford Field, Hutchinson did not disappoint. Beyond his dance moves, the second overall pick in the 2022 NFL draft made his presence felt right away during the short time he was on the field.
On the opening play of Atlanta’s first offensive series, the Falcons ran a bootleg towards where Hutchinson was lined up as a down defensive end. After initially crashing down the line towards the play-action to running back Cordarrelle Patterson, Hutchinson quickly realized quarterback Marcus Mariota still had the ball, and began his angled pursuit towards the sideline. Safety DeShon Elliott slowed Mariota down just enough for Hutchinson to clean up the play—and even though the play still netted 8 yards for Atlanta, it was great to see the rookie sprint to the ball like that and lay on his first NFL hit.
The very next snap, Hutchinson left veteran left tackle Jake Matthews grasping at air, before slinging running back Qadree Ollison to the ground for an impressive tackle for loss. As far as preseason crowds go—that was the loudest I have heard Ford Field get in quite some time.
During the same series, he was aware enough to sell the holding penalty against guard Chris Lindstrom. Showing off his versatility, he lined up inside on passing downs, where he can use his elite get-off and array of moves and counters on interior linemen.
For his first game as a Lion, it was a promising overall performance from Hutchinson.
Jameson Williams, WR
DNP: Recovering from knee injury suffered in January
Josh Paschal, DL
DNP: Recovering from sports hernia surgery
Kerby Joseph, S
43 defensive snaps (77%)
PFF defensive grade: 47.8
After starters Tracy Walker and DeShon Elliott left the game following the first series, rookie Kerby Joseph and third year safety JuJu Hughes were up next.
All in all, I was encouraged by what I saw from Joseph. He was a willing defender against the run—something he is going to have to continue to get better at as he develops behind the aforementioned veterans. Being able to play around the line of scrimmage and tackle with proper technique will be a determining factor in just how much of a role Joseph has in his rookie season.
On first-and-goal from the Lions’ 1 yard-line, rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder faked a handoff to Ollison before beginning to roll out towards his right. Joseph, who was lined up over the tight end prior to the snap, bit on the fake just long enough to be a step out of position, resulting in Ridder’s first touchdown pass to tight end Parker Hesse.
It is going to take him time and plenty of repetitions before he fully digests defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn’s split-safety scheme. Compared to what Joseph was tasked with during his time at the University of Illinois, a lot is asked of safeties in Glenn’s scheme.
Overall, it was a solid showing for Joseph, who finished as the Lions’ leading tackler with seven total tackles.
James Mitchell, TE
DNP: Recovering from knee injury suffered in September 2021
Malcolm Rodriguez, LB
21 defensive snaps (38%)
PFF defensive grade: 70.7
With veteran linebacker Alex Anzalone getting the night off, Rodriguez, along with second-year linebacker Derrick Barnes, were initially on the field with the first-team defense.
And while I am not one to overreact to anything that happens during preseason football (see the 2008 Detroit Lions if you somehow disagree with this notion), the run defense left a lot to be desired. Run-fits looked out of sync for most of the evening, and the linebackers certainly had a role in the dysfunction up front.
It’s early, and there certainly isn’t any reason to panic just yet. But if this Lions’ defense is going to take some steps during 2022, young players like Rodriguez and Barnes are going to have to improve, and in a hurry.
Still, there were promising moments from Rodriguez’s debut:
Malcolm Rodriguez shooting the gap, and then tossing a 300-pound lineman for fun. pic.twitter.com/qGtm2S3Vl4— Jeremy Reisman (@DetroitOnLion) August 13, 2022
James Houston, EDGE
17 defensive snaps (30%)
PFF defensive grade: 66.3
Despite being a sixth-round pick in the 2022 NFL draft, Houston isn’t going to have any kind of easy path to a roster spot. Seventeen snaps isn’t a lot for a player that needs all of the reps he can get in this defense.
At 6-foot-1 and only 241 pounds, Houston is likely going to have to carve out a specific role for himself, at least early on in his NFL career. You can see him giving it his all in terms of setting an edge against the run, but without near-perfect technique, it is going to remain difficult for Houston to anchor against a tackle that weighs over 300 pounds.
Until he proves he can effectively disengage from NFL-caliber offensive linemen, playing time during the regular season may be hard to come by for Houston.
Chase Lucas, DB
7 defensive snaps (12%)
PFF defensive grade: 91.5
If we are talking efficiency as a player, Arizona State alum Chase Lucas is off the charts. He had his name called a handful of times against the Falcons, even though he was only on the field for seven snaps as the nickel cornerback.
With Atlanta trailing 23-20 and only 1:43 remaining in the fourth quarter, Ridder received the snap out of the shotgun and attempted to find receiver Tyshaun James in the slot. Lucas saw Ridder staring down James, and seemed to bait the rookie quarterback into the throw. He did everything right—aside from making the catch. The very next play, Lucas came up to and made a nice open-field tackle to get Feleipe Franks on the ground.
The Falcons would end up scoring on a wild fourth down conversion, and with that score, would go on to win the game.
The good news is, Lucas will surely be granted more opportunities to prove himself over the next two preseason games. And lucky for him, his dropped interception came during an exhibition game. Better to get those mistakes out now, when the stakes aren’t nearly as high.
Undrafted Free Agents
Demetrius Taylor, DL
11 defensive snaps (20%)
PFF defensive grade: 73.4
All of Taylor’s snaps had the rookie out of Appalachian State on the inside, working against Atlanta’s guards. With players like Levi Onwuzurike and Josh Paschal sidelined, now is the time for a bubble-player like Taylor to impress the coaching staff.
Kalil Pimpleton, WR
37 offensive snaps (47%)
PFF offensive grade: 53.2
Pimpleton was targeted six times against Atlanta—hauling in three passes for 15 yards. Over the next two preseason games, Pimpleton needs to prove that he brings something to the table that isn’t already on the roster with the presence of sixth-year receiver Kalif Raymond.
Obinna Eze, OT
29 offensive snaps (37%)
PFF offensive grade: 44.6
It was a rough debut for Eze, as he struggled at times with even getting a hand on his blocking assignment. When the Lions signed him, it was understood that he was going to be somewhat of a long-term project. Still, in order to stick around on the final 53, or even the practice squad, offensive line coach Hank Fraley is going to need more from Eze in the coming weeks.
Derrick Deese Jr, TE
18 offensive snaps (23%)
PFF offensive grade: 41.8
The battles for TE2 and TE3 are wide open, but nobody did much to separate themselves from the pack against the Falcons. Deese was targeted twice in the passing game, but failed to come down with either attempt.
Nolan Givan, TE
14 offensive snaps (18%)
PFF offensive grade: 54.9
After watching the game for a second time, Givan seemed to have the better day blocking when compared with Deese—but his performance was also nothing to write home about.