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Detroit Lions preseason rookie review: Young players end preseason on strong note vs. Steelers

Examining how the Lions 2022 rookie class performed in Week 3 of the preseason.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn’t pretty by any means, but at least it’s behind us. In their preseason finale, the Detroit Lions lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers by a final score of 19-9. Quarterbacks Tim Boyle and David Blough—both vying for the backup position behind starter Jared Goff—fell short of expectations and outside of the running game, left the Lions’ offense sputtering for the majority of the game.

Despite the shortcomings in the passing game, there were some bright spots. Let’s take a look at how each member of the Lions’ 2022 draft class fared in their third and final preseason game of 2022.

Aidan Hutchinson, DL

20 snaps (31% of total defensive snaps) — 3 special teams snaps (12%)
PFF defensive grade: 46.1

A lot of what made Hutchinson so appealing coming out of the University of Michigan was his versatility along the defensive front. He has already shown the ability to get after the quarterback, he can play a closed-end position where his main responsibility is to set the edge against the run, and he can move inside on passing downs. It’s only been several weeks of him being a Lion, but I can confidently say he is going to be on the field a lot when the regular season gets going.

On this particular snap, the Lions forced a third and long, allowing defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn to slide Hutchinson inside to the three-technique. Hutchinson rips his way across the face of the Steelers’ right guard and never stops moving his feet, walking the guard all the way to a half-sack, along with defensive end Charles Harris.

He went on to add a tackle along with a quarterback hit during his 20 first-half snaps. It’s always tough to put an exact value on a statistic like sacks, with so many factors going into making it happen. But with what we have seen thus far from from Hutchinson, it is safe to say he is going to be a disruptive force right away. And for a team like the Lions, who are in dire need of playmakers on the defensive side of the ball, that is great news.

Jameson Williams, WR

DNP: Recovering from knee injury suffered in January

Josh Paschal, DL

DNP: Recovering from sports hernia surgery

Kerby Joseph, S

44 (69%) — 6 (24%)
PFF defensive grade: 68.0

After a productive week against the Indianapolis Colts, Joseph had another strong performance against the Steelers. He finished with seven total tackles, including a tackle for loss. There were certainly bumps and bruises along the way, but Joseph seems to have gotten more comfortable with time.

I doubt he sees a lot of snaps defensively to begin the season, but sitting in on meetings and continuing to learn the ropes is going to be paramount for Joseph’s progression as a safety.

James Mitchell, TE

17 (21%) — 1 (4%)
PFF offensive grade: 49.5

Another lighter workload for Mitchell, which makes sense when you consider he isn’t that far removed from fully recovering from a knee injury suffered last season.

I expect his role to expand during the regular season once he has had more time to get into the swing of things.

Malcolm Rodriguez, LB

18 (28%) — 9 (36%)
PFF defensive grade: 72.8

When I watch certain plays the day after a game, at times I like to imagine the reaction from a player’s positional coach when they execute something to perfection. Those are some of the more pleasant moments that take place when watching film. Take this run-fit from linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez for example. This is art and I know linebackers coach Kelvin Sheppard agrees with me.

This is exactly what the coaching staff means when they say Rodriguez is “keying” faster than the other linebackers. There are very few false-steps and almost zero wasted movement in his game. He recognizes what is happening, meets the pulling center in the hole, and squeezes the gap—allowing his teammates to rally to the football for a tackle for loss.

From a linebacker’s perspective, it doesn’t get much prettier than that.

James Houston, EDGE

9 (14%) — 5 (20%)
PFF defensive grade: 52.6

The writing may already be on the wall for Houston, and with only nine defensive snaps against Pittsburgh, he didn’t get much of a chance to prove otherwise.

Assuming he gets cut, it will be interesting to see if he lands on the Lions’ practice squad, or if another team likes him enough to sign him to their 53-man roster.

Chase Lucas, DB

20 (31%) — 6 (24%)
PFF defensive grade: 66.7

Lucas is very much in competition for a reserve cornerback role and managed to chip in two tackles against the Steelers, including one for loss. He will be a name I will be keeping a close eye on as the cut-down deadline approaches on Tuesday, August 30 at 4 p.m. ET.

Undrafted Free Agents

Demetrius Taylor, DL

31 (48%) — 6 (24%)
PFF defensive grade: 54.0

He didn’t make his way onto the stat sheet this week, but overall, Taylor has had a really strong showing in training camp. And with key contributors currently out of the lineup with injuries, he may end up being the only undrafted free agent to make the final roster.

Obinna Eze, OT

22 (27%) — 1 (4%)
PFF defensive grade: 56.5

Eze had another performance that reinforced the idea that he needs time to develop, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Especially for someone who has only been playing organized football for seven years.

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