Detroit Lions football is back, baby.
While it’s just a preseason game, it’s Lions football. The Lions were without the vast majority of their starting lineup, but for the first time in a long time, it felt like that didn’t matter. Friday night’s game was a testament to the depth of this year’s Lions roster, with core players seeing the field even though the starters sat.
If you’re wondering where John Cominsky is—we know Cominsky is good, and we know he’s making the roster. He was a man amongst boys Friday night, and had as much reason to sit this one out as the starters. Him aside, here are this week’s Detroit Lions game ball candidates:
LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin
Stats: 4 tackles, 1 tackle for loss
Welcome back to Detroit, JRM! Reeves-Maybin announced his return loudly Friday, playing a key role in holding the Giants to six points despite two turnovers in Lions territory to open the game. JRM was flying around and filling gaps very nicely, in a way we hadn’t seen since the Jim Caldwell era.
At one point, I was convinced JRM was making a case for LB3. As the game went on, Malcolm Rodriguez stepped up some more to put that idea to rest, but the fact that it’s even a thought is a far cry from where we were when JRM was signed. He was initially viewed as a special teams replacement for Josh Woods. If the Lions can reliably deploy him on defense, that’s a huge bonus.
WR Maurice Alexander
Stats: 1 catch, 7 yards, 95 yard punt return TD
Alexander entered this game on the outside of the roster looking in, one of 13 wide receivers fighting for roughly six spots. While there are still lingering questions, Alexander did what he could to plead his case, scoring the Lions’ only touchdown of the first 58 minutes of the game.
It’s still to be determined how much this sways Alexander’s position—he’s normally a kick returner, with Kalif Raymond (who just got paid) handling punt return duties when he suits up. However, his punt return was nonetheless a testament to Alexander’s abilities when he has space to work.
EDGE Julian Okwara
Stats: 3 tackles, 3 sacks
Julian Okwara finished with three (!) sacks on the night. Okwara always breaks my heart as he’s not unfamiliar with over-the-top preseason performances, but they don’t always translate to the regular season. He entered this game likely on the outside looking in when it comes to Lions pass rushers, but he made a compelling case to be on the other side of the bubble, playing a high volume of snaps and high-quality snaps throughout the night.
S Brandon Joseph
Stats: 3 tackles, 1 interception
Brandon Joseph didn’t see too many meaningful snaps Friday, but he sealed the game with a late interception. More importantly, his interception means Lions fans can get a buy one, get one free Big Mac from participating McDonald’s on Saturday since the Lions got an interception. Brandon Joseph, you’re a man of the people. For that, he gets a game ball nomination.
TE James Mitchell
Stats: 3 catches, 53 yards
James Mitchell continues his ascent from being a fifth-round pick without a healthy ACL last year. Mitchell is essentially a rookie, having his first complete offseason and training camp to prepare for the season ahead. It’s showing, as he made the most of his opportunities against the Giants. His 53 receiving yards on the night were almost half of his 113 total receiving yards in 2022—while only playing part of the snaps in this game.
All eyes are on Sam LaPorta, and righfully so. But while LaPorta grows into his role, Mitchell could make the case to be TE2 for the Lions.
QB Adrian Martinez
Stats: 4/7, 37 yds, 5 rushes, 14 yds, 1 TD
Martinez’s action was very limited against the Giants, but it was something. After the lackluster performance from Nate Sudfeld all night, Martinez was at least able to push the Lions offense downfield and into the end zone for the only time on offense all night.
In a head-to-head battle, Nate Sudfeld is probably better than Martinez right now. However, Martinez’ mobility and upside may persuade the Lions to keep him around on the practice squad if he keeps making plays like he did Friday night.
Who’s your pick for this week’s game ball winner? Vote in the poll below:
Who gets the Lions’ game ball against the Giants?
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