Expectations are a funny thing. For example, I had expectations this article would be easy to write and then I couldn’t stay focused on what I wanted to say and I wound up deleting everything I wrote and started over again. Things don’t always work out the way you think they will.
As it relates to football, sometimes your football team drafts a bunch of guys and you expect most of them to start right away and be stars. When that doesn’t happen, you tend to get upset and use the word bust. Sometimes it happens as early as the release of the unofficial depth chart. Every year that thing comes out and a rookie is not starting. People freak out. Well, I think there’s going to be a lot of that this year.
But that’s okay. The Detroit Lions are quite a different team than they were two years ago. They’re quite different than they were last year. The Lions roster was barren not long ago. Because of that, we got to see more rookies get starts or more playing time than what might have been expected in the past or on any other team. In fact, for the past two years, the Lions have started more first-year players than just about any other team in the NFL.
That’s a triumph. Lions general manager Brad Holmes has drafted pretty well and it shows. We got to see guys like Malcolm Rodriguez, Kerby Joseph, Alim McNeill, Amon-Ra St. Brown, James Houston, Jerry Jacobs and others get a chance to shine and they delivered.
But that should no longer be the expectation for Lions fans in 2023. Holmes is an excellent talent evaluator and it’s intoxicating to think that every draft haul is going to be stocked with day one contributors, but the Lions are a different team now. They don’t need—nor do they have the room—for so many rookie Day 1 contributors anymore.
The Lions are a good team right now. They are fully expected to contend for the division and maybe more this season and seasons going forward. The window is open. That’s why, as I stated earlier this week, the Lions are a team whose success doesn’t completely hinge on the immediate success of their draft class like they have been in the past.
Take a look at some of the needs that have been listed for the Lions: cornerback, defensive line, receiver, quarterback and linebacker. There might be some others, but that’s what comes to mind first. The Lions could use some help in each of these places, but they also largely have their day one starters figured out at all these places, too.
The Lions just heavily invested in the cornerback area in free agency, they have a starting quarterback, their defensive line could use interior help, but they aren’t necessarily starving for it. Their linebackers could be upgraded, but they just re-signed their valued veteran to a three-year deal and have two promising young options players. Their receiver room has some long-term questions, but it’s otherwise a decent-looking room.
The point here is that any rookie that comes to Detroit is going to get shots at playing time, but they’re likely to have a harder time becoming a starter and that’s totally okay. That’s called progress.
Obviously there may be exceptions. When you have the No. 6 pick in the draft, there’s a good chance they contribute significantly right away. If the Lions wind up with a guy like Jalen Carter or Will Anderson, for example, you can bet that those guys will likely get a ton of time and probably become day one starters. Anyone that gets drafted in the first round should have a similar expectation unless they’re a clear cut project.
Outside of the first round, though, you shouldn't expect to see late-round picks like Malcolm Rodriguez or James Houston to make huge impacts. The Lions are in prime position to take guys they can develop into something bigger and they have a roster that will allow them to do so without having to suffer through a majority of their early career lumps in their rookie year.
I fully expect Holmes and company to have a another good draft. We’ve seen enough evidence to believe that he can do that again. Just don’t expect to see the immediate impact that his two previous draft classes provided. With that said, if Holmes can grab a bunch of players who eventually find their way into starting roles this year, we’re talking about a guy s on the fast track for NFL Executive of the Year.