With just four teams remaining in the 2022-23 NFL Playoffs, that means it’s time for the NFC and AFC Conference Championships.
The NFC title will be settled first when the San Francisco 49ers travel across the country to take on the Philadelphia Eagles at 3 p.m. ET on FOX. Then the AFC crown will be handed out when the Cincinnati Bengals and the Kansas City Chiefs face off at 6:30 p.m. ET on CBS, in a rematch of last year’s conference championship game.
In this article series, we will sort through the pending free agents of the playoff teams on the schedule and pick out one from each team that the Detroit Lions should be watching.
Here’s who to keep an eye on during Sunday’s games:
Tyler Kroft, TE, 49ers
As a reminder, I previously suggested that the Lions should keep an eye on slot defensive back Jimmie Ward as a possible replacement for Will Harris, and offensive lineman Daniel Brunskill if they were unable to re-sign Evan Brown to a reasonable contract.
Kroft is a blocking TE2 capable of giving meaningful reps on offense, but he not going to contribute as a pass catcher beyond a handful of targets over a season. He’s not going to be a player who teams target in the first few waves of free agency, but his time will come because he can raise the competition level of the group.
TE Tyler Kroft showing off his mental processing. Carries out his zone footwork and fits up the linebacker perfectly. pic.twitter.com/hRntVceovh— Cover 1 (@Cover1) November 20, 2020
T.J. Edwards, LB, Eagles
Last week, I suggested that the Lions keep an eye on defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson as a potential upgrade to Will Harris.
After playing out his rookie contract in Philadelphia, the Eagles re-signed Edwards to a modest one-year, $2.15 million contract and he delivered with a career year. With a potentially deep linebacker free agency class, it’s easy for some to overlook the former Wisconsin Badger, but that would be a mistake. Edwards is a balanced MIKE who can stuff the run, drop into coverage, is effective rushing the passer, and won’t turn 27 years old until training camp.
Edwards should get a hefty raise this offseason, maybe not in the Tremaine Edmunds or Germaine Pratt range (due to proven long-term production) but it’s probably going to be close.
Let’s go, T.J. Edwards! #FlyEaglesFly pic.twitter.com/zKwP9JgxX8— PFF PHI Eagles (@PFF_Eagles) November 21, 2021
Max Scharping, RG, Bengals
In previous installments, I suggested the Lions should keep an eye on linebacker Germaine Pratt and running back Samaje Perine, if the Lions were looking to upgrade Alex Anzalone or if they were unable to re-sign Jamaal Williams, respectively.
Like Kroft, Scharping is a veteran player that isn’t going to challenge for a starting role but is worth taking a look at for depth at his position. Scharping, the No. 55 overall pick in the 2019 draft, has right tackle/guard flexibility but has never quite lived up to his potential. Could Lions offensive line coach Hank Fraley change that?
With the Bengals starting right guard, Alex Cappa ruled OUT, look for Scharping to get his third start of the playoffs.
#bengals picked up @MaxScharping from #texans as a backup swing guard - he had a number of key blocks including a great single against Oliver to spring this…I’m still shocked at how the #bills played the run this week ♂️ pic.twitter.com/9gzlx5NJD2— Michael Wahle (@MikeWahle68) January 24, 2023
Mecole Hardman, WR, Chiefs
Last week, I had originally hoped to suggest wide receiver Mecole Hardman, but I had to withdraw his name due to injury, and in his place, I suggested wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster as a potential veteran presence if DJ Chark leaves in free agency.
Hardman got in three limited practices this week and is listed as questionable. Even if he is able to return to the lineup, he has not played since Week 9 due to his pelvic injury, so expectations should be tempered for his ability to make an impact. So, while he may not be able to make a big impression in this specific game, he has done enough over his four years in the league to warrant a spot on this list.
Hardman is an absolute burner (legit 4.33 second 40 y/d speed) and should be viewed as a possible replacement for Chark. While not a WR-X like Chark, Hardman’s speed would give Detroit a similar impact—stretching the field and opening things underneath for Amon-Ra St. Brown. Additionally, Hardman would bring a gadget element to the Lions’ starters, allowing them to open offensive coordinator Ben Johnson’s playbook up even more.
Speaking of Packers.. Mecole Hardman got loose on them. When he put that foot in the ground to get north it was over lol Dudes so damn fast. #ChiefsKingdom pic.twitter.com/r8hqAZTej1— CROCKPOT (@eric_crocker) April 2, 2020