This early in a season, if even one player from your rookie class is playing at a high level, you are doing well. If you have two that are quickly becoming key pieces to your defense? Well, then you are really cooking. That’s exactly where Detroit Lions’ general manager Brad Holmes and coach Dan Campbell currently find themselves.
Second overall pick Aidan Hutchinson and sixth-round linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez both played integral roles in the Lions’ 36-27 victory in Week 2 over the Washington Commanders. Each started the game, made several impact plays, and were leaned on heavily in terms of how much they were on the field.
Let’s take a look at how each member of the Lions’ 2022 draft class fared in the win against Washington.
Aidan Hutchinson, DL
60 snaps (81% of total defensive snaps) — 2 special teams snaps (6%)
PFF defensive grade: 57.7
No, things weren’t perfect up front for Hutchinson. After all, this is only the second game of his young professional career. But man, can we appreciate his performance for a little bit? Six total tackles, three sacks on quarterback Carson Wentz, and two additional tackles for loss.
Similar to last week, defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn moved Hutchinson around depending on the down and distance. For a young pass rusher, moving around the line can seem daunting—since each spot has its own unique responsibilities. However, this coaching staff has praised Hutchinson’s approach as a pro from the get go, and a lot of what made him a sought-after prospect was on full display against Washington.
Take the first offensive series for Washington as an example. It’s third-and-4 with Wentz in the shotgun on the left hash. Hutchinson lines up at the three-technique and shortly after receiving the snap, Wentz has to step up in the pocket due to a delayed blitz by Lions’ linebacker Chris Board. Noticing this, Hutchinson pivots and begins pursuing towards the line of scrimmage as the Wentz climbs the pocket. Wentz is somehow able to avoid linebacker Julian Okwara before Hutchinson is finally able to get him on the ground, resulting in a Washington punt.
He didn’t win with his initial rush or even his counter, but dating back to training camp and the preseason—we have seen Hutchinson run plays down from behind. The effort is always there for him.
Another instance of Hutchinson’s effort popping flashes early on in the second quarter. Wentz is again working out of the shotgun, with Hutchinson lined up outside of Washington’s right tackle. As the ball is snapped, the rookie engages the tackle with two hands, driving him back. Wentz steps up in the pocket, causing Hutchinson’s arc to end behind where the quarterback has now relocated. But as Wentz drifts left in the pocket to escape pressure from Charles Harris, Hutchinson has already ripped free and is able to once again bring Wentz down from behind.
His third sack was the result of a nice game being ran along the front. Hutchinson, John Cominsky and Charles Harris were all lined up on one side of the center. Cominsky explodes upfield, occupying both the center and guard, freeing up the rookie to loop around and end up right in the face of the quarterback.
Once Hutchinson’s pass-rushing bag gets a little deeper, and the moves themselves get sharper—he will win more one-on-ones. I’m not really worried about that in the slightest. But for now, I will gladly take what the former Wolverine is currently giving this defense.
Jameson Williams, WR
DNP: Recovering from knee injury suffered in January
Josh Paschal, DL
DNP: Recovering from sports hernia surgery
Kerby Joseph, S
0 (0%) — 16 (50%)
Joseph was limited to special teams duty against the Commanders.
James Mitchell, TE
DNP: Was inactive for Week 2
Malcolm Rodriguez, LB
54 (73%) — 10 (31%)
PFF defensive grade: 74.2
I wonder how many teams in the NFL are kicking themselves right now for letting someone like Rodriguez fall to the sixth round? Everytime I think expectations may be getting a little high for the rookie linebacker, he resets the bar.
After receiving the second loudest cheers during player introductions (behind only Hutchinson), the “Detroit Cowboy” had himself a game with eight tackles and one quarterback hit. Not a dominating stat line by any means, but with linebacker play, so much of what they do goes unnoticed on the stat sheet.
Playing 73 percent of defensive snaps tells us a few things, with the main point being that this staff trusts Rodriguez enough to leave him on the field in almost all situations. He makes up for his relative lack of size at the position by being quick to diagnose and react. He’s also way better at shedding blocks than I initially gave him credit for, and at times, he just slips under blocks completely.
His skills as a defender in coverage will develop with time and experience, but with the way he plays the run, you would think the Oklahoma State product is a seasoned NFL veteran.
Lions run defense took a big step Sunday. Maybe my favorite play from that unit here: pic.twitter.com/hb069pNDbN— Jeremy Reisman (@DetroitOnLion) September 20, 2022
By the end of the season, we may see linebacker’s coach Kelvin Sheppard in some cowboy boots of his own.
Chase Lucas, DB
2 (3%) — 13 (41%)
PFF defensive grade: 62.4
Lucas may have only been on the field for two defensive snaps, but he and running back Jamaal Williams were both among the most active at attempting to pump up the crowd.
Undrafted Free Agents
Demetrius Taylor, DL
DNP: Was inactive for Week 2