There is no doubt that the Detroit Lions roster looks very different from two years ago of the season, before Brad Holmes took over as CEO. But how much has it changed?
In this exercise, I will try to test the answer to that question by going position by position through the 2020 NFL Draft 90 Lions squad and comparing it to the current 90 squad.
Note: Players are highlighted in the traditional positional colors I use for depth charts, with a slight variation in highlighting players who were in both squads in black.
It might as well snatch the bandaid straight out of the gate.
The playmaker is often identified as a position that potentially holds the team back, and it is understandable to do so. Matthew Stafford is arguably the top ten quarterback in the league, bordering on elite status, while Jared Goff is a solid NFL quarterback halfway through, but he’s not on the same level right now.
There is nothing to argue amongst backups with David Blough on both squad and the decision between Tim Boyle and Chase Daniel feels like a matter of coach preference.
Playmaker Bottom Line: Regardless of how you rate the reserves, this is clearly a group of positions that took a step backwards compared to the two seasons.
I run backwards
Swift was a rookie in 2020 and has grown over the past two seasons, so it’s fair to say the current group is slightly better in the starting position. He is still prone to injury and the team continues to spin their backs so it’s important to look at the entire positional group.
It was Kerryon Johnson’s final season in Detroit as a knee injury finally took a toll on his career. The 2020 Lions will recognize this and will actually make a move at training camp to bring back Adrian Peterson who started the first half of the season. Regardless, neither of them has shown the range of effectiveness – especially in passing play – that Jamaal Williams brings to the squad.
Looking beyond these players, we see Holmes’ greatest impact on the roster: Depth.
In the 2020 rankings, none of the other four defenders contributed in any way – most of them were released before or at the start of the season – while the current roster saw significant contributions from Reynolds, Jefferson and Igwebuike last season. The Lions also reportedly guaranteed Bell’s $ 100,000 UDFA contract, indicating they believe he will have a real chance of breaking the rotation.
The reverse run conclusion: Lions have seen talent gains among co-starters, but the depth makes this position group superior overall.
The comparison of these two groups is an interesting cross between a well-established group of producers (2020) who are ready to cash in on their next contract (Golladay, Jones and Agnew) or approaching retirement (Amendola) with a completely rebuilt group that is young and full of potential but no experience.
Just look at the top six of both groups – the group that formed the team in 2020 versus the expected group in 2022 – is very much up for discussion which is better.
Kenny Golladay has cemented his position as the best broadcaster and was paid the right pay, while Jameson Williams has the chance to dominate opponents but may not even see the field until midway through his rookie season due to an ACL injury. Likewise, Marvin Jones is a model of consistency while DJ Chark has a WR1 cap but he has to stay healthy and prove it.
At the Amon-Ra St. Brown has shown more skill than Danny Amendola in Detroit, while Open Gadget favors 2020, with Jamal Agnew showing more potential for big gameplay than Caliph Raymond – although Raymond is a more established pickup option.
Fifth and sixth place favors the current group as Quintez Cephus is now a better player than as a rookie, and Josh Reynolds has a more comprehensive skill set than Marvin Hall, which was little more than a deep threat.
Bottom line for the general public: Group 2020 consisted of a better group of players for the winning team now, but as Lions are just entering their second year of rebuilding they seem to be better served with the current high ceiling group of players who could be better together with a bit more spice .
Tight end / recessed
Hockenson made the Pro Bowl in 2020 but hasn’t really improved on his game since then. So, while it is still a highly skilled offensive weapon, this is not a situation – as in the case of running away with Swift – where we can say that the position has been improved through development.
At first glance, depth seems to favor Jesse James and Isaac Nauta. But the reality is that Brock Wright’s 2021 was on par with James’s 2020 stats / ratings and threw Nauta out of the water.
Wright in 2021: 5 starts in 10 games, 12 receptions (17 goals) for 117 yards, 8.9 yards for pickup, 2 touchdowns and an overall PFF rating of 53.5.
James in 2019: 11 starts in 16 games, 16 receptions (27 goals) for 142 yards, 8.9 yards per reception, 0 touchdowns and an overall PFF rating of 53.7.
The biggest difference between them? James’s contract hit $ 2.3 million in 2019 (with an average contract of $ 5.7 per year), while Wright cost less than half a million ($ 477,734) last season.
From there, depth continues to favor the current line-up. James Mitchell looks to be a real talent in this position and a solid complement to Hockenson. Garrett Griffin has experience working with trainer Dan Campbell and is able to build a team based on experience. While Jason Cabinda has established himself as a “superback” – it wasn’t until 2020 that he switched to a defender and actually opened spring camp as a defender – and is a critical component of the attack.
Bottom line on the tight end: Once Mitchell recovers from the ACL – he is expected to be ready for fall camp – he should upgrade the group immediately. Add to that another year of growth from Wright and the reliability of Griffin, it should be a solid competition for places behind the Hockenson. Cabinda will have no contraindications to his role, but expect the deep sea trio to develop in case he gets another injury.
With the four 2020 starters still in the role in 2022, you wouldn’t think that this group has been greatly improved, but I wholeheartedly disagree. Frank Ragnow and Taylor Decker remain steadfast on the line, but the other three starting positions have been improved.
Jonah Jackson was just a rookie without an established position in 2020 and is now finishing the Pro Bowl season in 2022. Halapoulivaati Vaitai pounced on the defense, and as a player in the middle, he is an upgrade to Oda Aboushi. The most notable move was to replace Vaitai in a Penea Sewell right tackle who may possibly have the highest level in the group.
In terms of depth, in 2020 Matt Nelson was just a year away from switching to an offensive offensive from the defensive line, and now, with two years of experience, he’s one of the best lines of the sixth offensive in the game. Evan Brown had a career year behind him last season and his return to the squad felt like an off-season theft. Tommy Kraemer may have no experience with Kenny Wiggins, but he has been consistent as a rookie and looks to be staying around.
Losing Tyrell Crosby and Joe Dahl hurts on the surface, but both have fallen out of favor with their coaching staff and neither have returned to the NFL since leaving the Lions – although Crosby is expected to recover. Replacing them by Dan Skipper and Logan Stenberg isn’t everything, but they aren’t the worst options either. Expect to be pushed into their roles through UDFA 2022, in particular Obinna Eze.
Bottom line on the offensive: If the Lions starting the top five can stay healthy, they will be in the conversation as the first fifth offensive line in the NFL. The return of the top six reserves, as well as the addition of three UDFAs that could surprise, is arguably the best position group in the squad.