The Detroit Lions’ investment in their youth has been obvious to anyone who has paid attention. Last year, the Lions moved on from several veterans in order to get the young player on their roster some serious experience. In fact, the Lions got more snaps out of their rookies in 2021 than any other team, and it wasn’t particularly close. The Lions are in a rebuild, and they’re smartly trying to build a young core for this team.
And if you were to trust Football Outsiders’ latest offering from ESPN, they are among the top teams when it comes to their young players. On Monday, they released their rankings of the teams with the best talent under 25 years old. Their methodology was to combine several factors: number of snaps and starts from players under 25 years old, quality of play, positional value, and age-adjusted performance to allow for future improvement.
Put it all together and the Lions ranked seventh on their list.
“Unlike some previous hapless Detroit teams, Campbell’s Lions offer a reason for optimism in their leap from the bottom 10 in under-25 talent in 2020 and 2021 to seventh this year,” Football Outsiders’ Scott Spratt wrote.
On one hand, the Lions probably should be ranked in the top 10 given their recent draft capital. Detroit has had three top-12 picks in the last two drafts, and all three of those players—Penei Sewell, Aidan Hutchinson and Jameson Williams—are listed as “blue-chip players” in this article. On the other hand, it was Detroit’s commitment to a rebuild that landed them those draft picks—and general manager Brad Holmes’ strategic aggression that got them Williams.
The Lions’ youth potential goes beyond their recent first-round picks. Running back D’Andre Swift is still just 23 years old. Fourth-round pick Amon-Ra St. Brown is 22. If the Lions can get the Year 2 jump they’re expecting out of Levi Onwuzurike (24), Alim McNeill (22) and Derrick Barnes (23), they’ll have a pretty solid core on defense. Even players like Jeff Okudah (23) and Julian Okwara (24) could have promising futures despite slow starts to their career.
The Lions, too, have a handful of players who just barely missed the cut. DJ Chark, Jack Fox, T.J. Hockenson, and Jonah Jackson are all currently 25 years old.
It’s an ongoing joke that the Lions have been constantly rebuilding since 1957, but it’s worth pointing out that this strategy of investing heavily in their youth is relatively new. In last year’s rankings, the Lions ranked 23rd, and the year before that they were 26th. Obviously, having young talent doesn’t mean you have good talent, but if Holmes continues to draft promisingly, Detroit may have a bright, bright future.