As we continue our 2023 Detroit Lions player profiles of second-year players, one that doesn’t get talked about much is defensive lineman Josh Paschal. It’s curious how quickly we are to forget about Paschal considering he was a second-round pick last year, but I suppose that’s what happens when his rookie season gets overshadowed by two other defensive line rookies in Aidan Hutchinson and James Houston.
But there are several reasons to believe that Paschal could make a much bigger impact in 2023—and perhaps more importantly—take on a foundational role in 2024.
Expectations heading into 2022
As a second-round pick, expectations were high for Paschal to elevate a defensive line that needed it. Paschal was an inspirational story in college, a hard worker, and someone capable of being a versatile defender at the next level.
Unfortunately, Paschal was dealing with injury from college, and ended up having sports hernia surgery after OTAs last year. He missed all of training camp and started the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list. He would not return to practice until the first week in October. Two weeks later, he’d be on the active roster.
Actual role in 2022
10 games (4 starts): 293 snaps played (25.8% of defensive snaps)
Stats: 16 tackles, 2.0 sacks, 15 pressures (per PFF)
PFF overall grade: 55.1 (112th out of 134 EDGE defenders with at least 200 snaps)
Despite missing all of training camp and nearly the first two months of the season, Paschal was thrown right into the thick of things. With both Julian and Romeo Okwara recovering from injuries and Charles Harris missing almost the entire year, Paschal’s first NFL appearance was also his first NFL start. In fact, he started his first four games, despite missing all of those offseason practices, and had a full workload—playing at least 55 defensive snaps in each of his first three games before suffering a knee injury of his own.
After missing the next two games, Paschal returned to a much more manageable role on defense. For the final six games, Paschal averaged just 16.3 snaps per contest. His biggest contributions came in Week 17 against the Bears, where he played 25 snaps and logged the only two sacks of his rookie season.
His overall performance was just okay—as you would expect of a rookie who missed all of training camp and was thrown into the fire. Some of his issues from college—most notably, his slow reaction time off the snap—were still apparent. Just watch the sack above.
Still, Paschal looks back on 2022 as an extremely valuable experience. Not only did he get his feet wet at the NFL level of competition, but he also learned the value of perseverance through injury.
“I learned a lot last year just about the pace of the game, the change in the game from college to NFL,” Paschal said this spring. “Just getting my feet wet last year and being able to go out there (and) start some games. But I’m thankful for that full experience last year of coming to the league. I was injured, able to rehab, and come back. It taught me a lot about patience, perseverance, and all the things that you need.”
Outlook for 2023
Heading into his second season, Paschal should be more prepared once the regular season hits. He’s been able to participate in full during OTAs and minicamp, and should hit the ground running for his first career NFL training camp.
What’s unclear, though, is how big of a role he’ll have on defense. The Lions are pretty deep at the edge position, with Charles Harris and Romeo Okwara returning from injury and Paschal’s biggest challenge for playing time—John Cominsky—returning to the team on a two-year deal.
But Paschal has something that all three of those players don’t: youth. He is the future at the position, and the Lions have shown in the past that they are not afraid to play their young players. And with Paschal’s versatility to play both the edge position and on the interior, there’s no doubt that he’ll get his fair share of opportunities in 2023.
Paschal has already made a good impression with new defensive line coach John Scott Jr., albeit during padless OTA practices.
“From the things I’ve seen out here in individual and the team stuff, that guy is moving well, he’s explosive,” Scott said. “I’ve been pleased with what I’ve seen. I look forward to when we get pads on and then you can put it all together. But as far as movement in practice and knowing what to do and executing, he’s done a really good job with that.”
I wouldn’t expect a huge year from Paschal, just due to the Lions’ high rotation. However, the stage is set for Paschal to take on a much more significant role in 2024, and this upcoming season will serve as a nice stepping stone to that growth.