Following a rough 3-13-1 season, it seems like the Detroit Lions can only go up. The pieces are seemingly in place to take another step in the rebuilding process, but can the players themselves live up to expectations?
Just yesterday, Jeremy Reisman posed the question “What are the minimum expectations for the 2022 Detroit Lions?” and there were a wide array of answers. Today, I want to focus on the players, because at the end of the day, they are what drives wins and losses on the field.
There is no shortage of players with high expectations as Week 1 approaches. Everyone wants to see a player improve, but not all expectations are set equally. For rookie wideout Jameson Williams, most people are anticipating a dynamic playmaker—once he’s healthy. Because health is such an important factor to consider, and the Lions don’t appear Super Bowl-bound in 2022, players like Williams are more of a long-term bet, and thus might have lower expectations.
Rookies in general should have lower expectations, given the change of pace that comes from the college-to-NFL jump. That being said, when you are chosen second overall in the draft, fans, writers, and coaches will set high expectations for you. Aidan Hutchinson had a phenomenal preseason, and the hype is already through the roof. Hutchinson is already among the favorites for Defensive Rookie of the Year, so to say he enters his rookie year with a lot of pressure might be an understatement.
When discussing expectations, you need look no further than the offense. Given Jared Goff’s rough first season in Detroit, the pressure will be on him to perform. Many people view Goff as the limiting factor on offense. If he cannot perform this season, it may be his last as a starter. The expectation for Goff isn’t a Pro Bowl nod, but he might need that level to retain his starting role.
Elsewhere on offense, the expectations vary wildly. Running backs coach Duce Staley has said D’Andre Swift has best-in-the-league ability, but can he play up to it? Can T.J. Hockenson entrench himself as an elite tight end? Will the offensive line finally live up to the hype after years of investments? After bursting onto the scene as a rookie, can and will Amon-Ra St. Brown continue his upward trend? Can DJ Chark reestablish himself as a capable WR1?
For all the struggles of the Lions' defense in recent years, it may finally be on the upswing. Perhaps no player on defense has a bigger chip on his shoulder than Jeff Okudah. With some fans already labeling him a bust, Okudah would love to silence the critics with a shutdown third season. If he can do it, however, is still up in the air.
Mix in the likes of Charles Harris, Alim McNeill, Tracy Walker, and Malcolm Rodriguez—thanks to a massive spotlight from “Hard Knocks”—and expectations could be quite high for that side of the ball. At the very least, the Lions would like one defender to thrust himself into the elite conversation.
Even special teams are not without expectations. Riley Patterson looked like the sure-fire kicker of the future with a 13-for-14 rookie season. When it was announced that Austin Seibert had won the job, it was met with disappointment from many fans. Seibert likely got the nod due to his stronger leg and better preseason campaign. Any slipups will be highly criticized by fans, especially with Patterson getting claimed by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Being a kicker is stressful enough, but Seibert will have to deal with plenty of people looking to say “I told you so.”
It is difficult to remind ourselves that this is still a team on the upswing. The reason why expectations can skyrocket is due to the promise of a bright future for this franchise. Can these players fulfill such a vision?
Today’s Question of the Day is:
Which Lions player has the highest expectations entering Week 1?
My answer: I think D’Andre Swift has the highest expectations.
I keep coming back to Duce Staley’s comments about Swift. Both coaches and fans alike have seen the potential flash before our eyes, making plays that rival those of the best backs in the league. While Jamaal Williams is no slouch and an excellent complimentary piece to Swift, Swift is the type of player that can truly take over a game. “Boy is special,” said Staley, and I believe him.
Swift enters 2022 at an important junction of his career. The timeline for most running backs entering the league is three years. After three years, the decision to retain or release often becomes an obvious one. Due to high turnover at the position, running backs rarely get more than three seasons to prove their worth as a starter. Swift has talent, no doubt, but if 2022 is a repeat of 2021, is that enough to entrench him as the starter going forward?
There is nothing wrong with Swift’s previous role as 1A to Williams’ 1B, but it certainly feels like he can and should be destined for more. There’s a star in the Lions backfield, it just needs to shine.