On Thursday afternoon, Detroit Lions general manager Brad Holmes took the podium alongside assistant general manager Ray Agnew to discuss the latest roster cuts, the team’s rookie class, and expectations for the 2022 season.
It was an informative 30 minutes that gave insight into the duo’s process, detailed the progress they think the team has made, and revealed some of their thoughts on individual players as well.
You should take the time to watch the entire press conference yourself, but here were my seven biggest takeaways from the joint presser.
1. Cuts were harder this year — a lot harder
It was obvious to anyone trying to create their own 53-man roster out of this year’s Lions team, but Holmes confirmed what we all already knew: this year’s roster is a lot further along than it was last year, making roster cuts tricky this year.
“Just going back to last year, trying to cut down to 85, probably after the first few days of camp, probably could’ve told you, ‘Yep, got the five,’” Holmes said. “You got to cut down to 80 and it’s like, ‘Yep, got it.’ Even – I told you guys last year, we cut down to 53 last year, I mean Dan and I maybe had probably like one or two discussions that needed to be made. But fast forward to this year, just getting down to 85 was—it was difficult. You kind of got to about three and then, it’s like, ‘Okay, I’m not sure if I want to quite do this yet.’ And so, it’s just—it made it hard.”
Now, part of that seems like a bit of exaggeration. Cutdowns were probably easier last year, but they weren’t that easy. And I highly doubt the team had that much trouble going from 90 to 85 players. Still, Holmes’ overall point stands.
2. Jeff Okudah impressed the staff
Holmes was asked which position intrigued him the most coming into camp and subsequently impressed over the last month. His answer: the secondary. Holmes correctly pointed out that the position had the most questions surrounding it going into training camp, but he found many answers.
The biggest came from former third-overall pick Jeff Okudah, who was returning from an Achilles injury. No one really knew what to expect from him physically, mentally, or on the football field. But the Lions gave him the opportunity to compete for a starting job, and he earned it.
“I appreciate the way Jeff Okudah responded and he was challenged, and he earned it,” Holmes said. “And we were upfront and honest with him and he didn’t coward, back down or anything, he took it and he earned it.”
3. The Lions expected Tim Boyle to improve... he didn’t
Holmes was peppered with questions on the backup quarterback situation—from why the Lions brought back both Tim Boyle and David Blough to how concerned he is about entering the season with Nate Sudfeld as the backup—but his most telling quote was about Boyle.
Last season, Boyle got his first taste of regular season action, and while he went 0-3 in his three starts, Holmes said he saw enough in those games that he believed with more experience, Boyle had a chance to develop into something worth having. Obviously, that never came with Boyle nor Blough.
“Those first games that [Boyle] ever played in his entire life we saw some things that encouraged us to want to keep working with him,” Holmes said. “And then, bringing back Blough, and he’s got previous experience. And so, we had the plan in place, we felt good about it and they just didn’t quite make the jump that we expected them to make.”
4. Brad Holmes does not have any regrets taking injured players in the draft
The Lions selected Levi Onwuzurike with their second-round pick last year, and they chose Josh Paschal just this past April in the second round. Both of those players ended up missing a significant portion of training camp due to injuries that were pre-existing from college.
Holmes claims that the team knew about both of them prior to drafting them and decided both players were worth the risk. In fact, he said that Onwuzurike contributed more in his rookie season than they expected.
Obviously, they did not see Onwuzurike’s injury lingering into this year. But when asked if he had learned anything from these experiences to take into further drafts, Holmes said injury situations should be taken individually, and you can’t always know how a player will recover.
“Unfortunately he’s had to still deal with, but you just don’t have that crystal ball quite yet,” Holmes said.
With Paschal, the Lions don’t seem to fazed by the setback. Paschal had a hernia issue in Kentucky, and the Lions knew about it. Despite re-aggravating the injury and requiring surgery this spring, Holmes has no problem adjusting the timeline.
“We’re not kicking ourselves,” Holmes said. “We’re not saying, ‘Oh, we overlooked this or that,’ it’s just things that we were prepared for.”
5. Ray Agnew loves Aidan Hutchinson
Agnew didn’t get a lot of time on the mic, but when the conversation turned to Lions first-round pick Aidan Hutchinson, his eyes lit up.
“I can’t stop smiling,” Agnew said. “I love the kid, the kid’s relentless, effort, and much better athlete than you thought he was in the draft process. Man, the things he can do rushing the passer, inside, off the edge, using his hands. He’s very creative as a rusher. I would just say this, we got the right one.”
6. The Lions are trying to tone down expectations for Malcolm Rodriguez
If you thought Holmes was going to take this opportunity to do a victory lap for his sixth-round selection of linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez, who has worked his way from special teamer to potential Week 1 starter, you were wrong. While Holmes admitted Rodriguez has exceeded expectations, he was careful not to put too much on the rookie’s shoulders.
“He’s just got a level of key-in diagnose that has translated, but again, you just don’t know (how) quickly it’s going to come,” Holmes said. “But it’s come, come quick, but can’t say enough that he is a rookie. He hadn’t played an NFL game yet, so let’s just see where it goes.”
This follows exactly what the rest of the Lions organization has been trying to do publicly. “Hard Knocks” has made Rodriguez a star, but Detroit is trying to do damage control to make sure the world of expectations are not weighing the young kid down. A week ago, linebackers coach Kelvin Sheppard said not to put too much into preseason performance quite yet.
“He deserves (the attention) in a way, but at the same time, I just want to put that out there because I know that narrative is out there right now and that’s a lot to put on the kid,” Sheppard said. “I would like us to tone it down and kinda see where we’re at Week 4, 5, 6”
7. Holmes sees late-round value in linebackers, safeties
Continuing with the Rodriguez talk, Holmes was asked if the linebacker’s early success could impact how the Lions approach the draft in the future. In short, Holmes said no, but he did reveal a bit about his beliefs on positional value and how it relates to the draft.
“You can always look at past success at certain positions that you may be able to hit on in the later rounds,” Holmes said.
He then brought up the example of Rams safety Jordan Fuller, whom the Rams took in the sixth round back in 2020. Fuller has quickly developed into a full-time starter.
“Had a pretty good idea that he’s a high floor player that’s going to end up being a starter,” Holmes recalled
That belief system holds true for linebackers, too.
“There’s certain positions that you can kind of look at and assess that you may be able to find gold in the later rounds, and inside linebackers, it’s a good volume of them throughout the draft,” Holmes said.
That’s obviously very interesting to hear because a lot of people expected the Lions to take both a safety and linebacker early in the draft. But despite entering draft week with five picks in the top 100, the Lions waited until Pick 97 to select safety Kerby Joseph, and didn’t pick Rodriguez until Pick 188.
This is a quote to keep in mind when draft season rolls around next year.