As we’ll do every week throughout the season for this Lions team, we have some data we can comb through courtesy of Pro Football Focus that can help us better understand the football the Lions have played thus far—and what to look forward to in the coming weeks. Let’s take a closer look at the Lions by the numbers after their win over the New York Giants in Week 1 of the 2023 NFL preseason.
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The Lions did spend a second-round selection on Sam LaPorta, and he has looked like quite the player in training camp, but the preseason opener served as a reminder of James Mitchell, the former fifth-round selection in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Nice seeing James Mitchell getting out in the open field. Also peep the Jamo block downfield pic.twitter.com/q4jNYQL2EW— Zach Payne (@Zachpayne41) August 12, 2023
Mitchell looked noticeably more athletic on Friday, especially after the catch. He hauled in all three of his targets for 53 yards, posting an impressive 17.7 yards per reception, but his 38 yards after catch was the top mark for tight ends in Week 1 of the preseason. With the emergence of Brock Wright as a dependable option last season, Mitchell became an afterthought to many Lions fans, but don’t be surprised if Ben Johnson catches opposing defenses sleeping by utilizing Mitchell’s hands and athleticism in space.
Perhaps one of the most interesting subplots to the construction of the Lions roster is how things will shake out at the SAM/rush end position for Detroit. Veteran Charles Harris has been consistently repping with the starting defense, but with names like John Cominsky, James Houston, and Julian Okwara as depth, the Lions will have some tough decisions to make. After Friday, those decisions got that much harder to make.
Houston was credited with five pressures on just 15 pass rushing snaps, more of the same ridiculously efficient production we saw from him in his rookie season. Not to be outdone, Julian Okwara matched Houston’s five pressures, but also got home to the quarterback for 3.0 sacks against the Giants and posted the best pass-rushing productivity (PRP) rate, 22.2, amongst all defenders in Week 1.
“He’s a flash player, man. He does something really impressive and then it just kind of reverts back at times,” head coach Dan Campbell said last week about Okwara. “He doesn’t use what he’s been taught and so he—man, he just has to continually put on tape what he’s been taught and those little flash plays, they have to become the norm. We’re at the point now, we’re year three with him, with us, and so those things have to show up every time because he’s too talented, he just is.”
Okwara answered the bell in round one, and he did it in a big way, but for a player still on the outside of the roster looking in, the pressure is on for him to prove he’s the consistent player this coaching staff is looking for him to be during this week of practices against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Jameson Williams has been under a microscope unlike any other Lions player I’ve covered, and after dropping a pass in the first quarter that would’ve resulted in a chunk gain, the frustrations with the former first-round pick continued #online. Quarterback Nate Sudfeld targeted Williams six times in the game, two of the passes resulted in interceptions, and another was the aforementioned drop, but catching just two passes for 18 yards can understandably be viewed as underwhelming and disappointing.
VIDEO: Jameson Williams made a one-handed catch on a Lions two-point conversion pic.twitter.com/H2qt5SkvPw— Brad Galli (@BradGalli) August 12, 2023
Williams’ one-handed grab on this two-point conversion was the kind of bounce-back play that can remind you of his ability as a receiver, and his willingness to get his nose dirty as a blocker was on display numerous times in this game. Ultimately, Williams was brought in to catch passes, and he’ll have to make more plays in that phase to assuage the trepidation of Lions fans, but here’s a number to be encouraged by in his usage: Williams’ average depth of target, 20.2 yards, was the second-best mark among pass-catchers with at least four targets in Week 1. It means nothing if he can’t haul in the targets, but Detroit clearly wants to use his speed to stretch opposing defenses, and he’s going to get every opportunity to prove himself reliable over these next couple of weeks.
2 & 1
Detroit had plenty of rookies out on the field getting their first reps in an NFL game, but none of them made quite the impact or impression as Lions first-round pick, linebacker Jack Campbell.
.@Lions @jackcampbell133 looked like he wanted to throw some lumber around last night…Hey Coach Campbell…Can I finally frkn hit somebody tonight?? @HawkeyeFootball #BaldysBreakdowns pic.twitter.com/VrbZPtllaH— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) August 12, 2023
PFF gave Campbell a 90.6 grade, the highest for any rookie in the 2023 NFL Draft class, but after digging further into their premium statistics, the former Iowa product did something no other linebacker in the NFL did in Week 1 of the preseason. Campbell recorded two defensive stops in the run game and had one pass breakup in pass coverage, and did it in just 25 snaps on Friday. If Campbell can be a versatile anchor in the middle of Detroit’s defense, someone who can stay on the field no matter the down and distance, the Lions defense could take a big step forward in 2023.