After a 3-13-1 season, the Detroit Lions have nowhere to go but up. Optimism is unusually high, not only in Detroit, but also on the national stage. This is due to another above average draft by Brad Holmes and Co. as well as some interesting signings in free agency.
Overall, this team has potential in 2022 to play meaningful games late in the season, but certain players will need to step up in order to elevate the team and ease any doubts or uncertainties.
Here are four players that need to perform in 2022:
1. TE T.J. Hockenson
While Hockenson’s job is secure for the next two seasons after the Lions picked up his fifth-year option for 2023, his production has not lived up to the draft capital used to get him. His stats through his first three seasons in Detroit are quite similar to former Lions TE Eric Ebron’s first three years, which might make some fans uneasy.
Hockenson: 244 targets, 160 receptions, 1673 yards, 12 TDs
Ebron: 202 targets, 133 receptions, 1596 yards, 11 TDs
Hockenson clearly has more potential and can be a better athlete. His ascension into one of the league’s top TEs is still waiting to be seen. He was supposed to be the main beneficiary of having QB Jared Goff last season. But, Hockenson was inconsistent and injury-plagued. It would still be no surprise if the Lions locked up Hockenson long-term. Nonetheless, he needs to earn that extension on the field.
Hopefully he can bounce back this season. Hockenson is needed to make this offense fire on all cylinders. With Hockenson, this could be an underrated offense going into 2022, even with Goff at the helm.
2. CB Jeff Okudah
The third-year corner out of Ohio State has had a miserable start to his career. Having back-to-back season ending injuries and playing only one game last season, it is crucial for Okudah’s career that he performs and stays healthy. From the limited videos of Okudah this offseason, he looks well rehabbed and good to go, which has the Lions hoping he can lead a decent cornerback room consisting of Amani Oruwariye, Ifeatu Melifonwu, Mike Hughes, and Jerry Jacobs.
This could very well be a make-or-break season for Okudah, the third overall pick from the 2020 draft. Jeff was tested his rookie season. Facing star receivers like DeAndre Hopkins, Devante Adams, and Julio Jones.
In 2022, Okudah will defend with DeVonta Smith, AJ Brown, Terry McLaurin, and Justin Jefferson. All within the first three games of the season. It will be a great challenge for Okudah to overcome.
3. QB Jared Goff
This is all-too obvious. Simply put, if Goff wants to stick around past this season, he will need to go above and beyond for the Lions in 2022. Especially with the quarterbacks available in the 2023 draft, it might be too enticing for the Lions to move on from Goff if he has another mediocre season.
Goff ended the 2021 season on a high note, throwing for 11 TDs and 2 INTs in five games with HC Dan Campbell calling plays after the team parted ways with OC Anthony Lynn. With Ben Johnson now serving as offensive coordinator, Goff has a chance to ride the momentum from the end of last season into 2022.
Goff will also have two new weapons to throw to in WRs D.J. Chark and rookie Jameson Williams, meaning he will have every opportunity to prove himself. The Lions are clearly trying to put Goff in the best position to succeed and put as much firepower around him. It is not out of the realm of possibility that Goff can return to his old form and be the QB that led the Los Angeles Rams to the Super Bowl only three seasons ago.
Subjectively, this is a win-win no matter how Goff plays – if he is good, then the Lions will be contending for a playoff berth; if he is bad, then the Lions can easily make the decision to take a QB at the top of the 2023 draft.
Many fans have already given up on Goff, and rightfully so. However, this regime has favored Goff since the trade to bring him to Detroit, and it seems like they will give him as many chances as possible.
Detroit selected Hutchinson second overall in this year’s draft behind Georgia’s Travon Walker. However, Hutchinson was seen by many analysts as the most complete defensive end in the draft. The Lions came away with not only an excellent and versatile player, but also a culture fit.
The local Divine Child High School and University of Michigan product will step into a defense that overachieved in 2021 with defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn and, with some of the additions from free agency and the draft, this is a group that should make more positive strides in 2022. This all starts with Hutchinson, who will look to fill a need at edge rusher.
The Lions released DE Trey Flowers this offseason, so Hutchinson has the path to contribute right away alongside veteran Romeo Okwara.
There is not any immediate pressure on Hutchinson to perform, but, with the expectations the team, fans, and analysts have for him, hopefully he meets that standard. Hutchinson is an early candidate for defensive Rookie of the Year, so that will also feed into the excitement the fans have for him.
Holmes and Campbell’s first pick in last year’s draft, OT Penei Sewell, had a very good rookie season, and Hutchinson will hopefully follow suit.