Detroit Lions: An Evaluation of the Starting 11 on Offense

The Detroit Lions are looking once again to rebound after a disappointing 3-13-1 finish to their 2021-2022 season. Going into last season, the Lions were given an unimpressive over/under 5.5 wins from Vegas as new head coach Dan Campbell embarked on his rookie campaign. Not much went well for the Lions last year, as the offense and defense struggled, finishing 22 and 29 respectively. Going into the 2022-2023 season, the Lions will look to improve on both sides of the ball. We’ll focus on the Lion’s offense first, where the first major change was replacing offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn with first time coordinator Ben Johnson. Prior to becoming coordinator, Johnson spent the 2019 season as an offensive quality control assistant and was promoted to tight end’s coach from 2020-2021. Johnson will be tasked to lead an offense which is loaded with weapons and experienced line play.

The Quarterback position will feature a familiar face as Jared Goff will enter his second season with the Lions. Last year, Goff finished with pedestrian numbers as he passed for 3,245 yards (20 among qualified quarterbacks) and 19 touchdowns (20) while finishing 24 in QBR. With added weapons around him and a fully healthy season, look for Goff’s numbers to improve across the board coming into this year. A concerning statistic from the 2021 season was Goff’s yds/completion. He finished with only 6.6 yds per completion, which has since regressed in the last three seasons. Look for new coordinator Ben Johnson to spread the field more as the offense gets some speed with rookie receiver Jameson Williams.

  At backup, expect a return of Tim Boyle. In the three games missed by Goff last season, Boyle stepped in and subsequently lost all three starts. A career backup, Boyle has played in the NFL since 2018 playing for the Packers from 2018-2020 under Aaron Rodgers and released once Jordan Love was drafted.

Running Back:
Last season, the Lions took a two-headed running back committee approach in their backfield, and it worked well. Lead rusher D’Andre Swift finished the season with 617 yards on the ground and 454 through the air while totaling seven touchdown’s. Jamal Williams meanwhile finished the season with 601 yards on the ground and added 157 through the air while adding three touchdowns. Both backs are more than capable of shouldering a full-load, which adds reliability and depth to the running back room. One thing to note for the group is the receiving ability of Swift. Swift was targeted a whopping 78 times last season and produced 62 receptions in only 13 games. The Lions obviously have a dual threat back in Swift and they will continue to find ways to get him the ball.

Wide Receiver:
The receiving corp for the 2022 Detroit Lions should be exciting. Two new faces will be joining the corp, one via free agency and one via the draft. The Lions got in on the wide receiver free agency frenzy, signing D.J Chark to a one-year, $10-million deal. Last year with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Chark was blocking on a run sweep and got his ankle caught up in the ensuing tackle. His gruesome ankle injury kept him out for the remainder of the season. Chark is hoping to return to his 2019 self, where he developed nicely with Gardner Minshew and surpassed the 1,000 yd receiving mark.

With the 12 pick of the 2022 NFL draft, the Lions traded up 20 spots with the Minnesota Vikings to select Jameson Williams. Williams is a speedy receiver out of Alabama, who unfortunately tore his ACL in last years CFP National Championship against the Georgia Bulldogs. Many are saying the Lions took a risk on Williams, as they likely will not see any action from him until late in the season. Regardless, the Lions saw an opportunity with Williams and could not pass on his raw speed and athleticism.

The most notable returner for the Lions will be 2021 rookie standout Amon-Ra St. Brown. St. Brown burst onto the scene last year with 90 catches for 912 yds along with five touchdowns. Selected in the fourth round of the 2021 NFL Draft out of USC, St. Brown quickly climbed up a lackluster wide receiver room and became a reliable target for Jared Goff. The two will hope to build off of last year’s chemistry as St. Brown enters as the unquestioned wide receiver one.

Other names to watch for this season will be returners Quintez Cephus and Kalif Raymond. Cephus, who is rumored to be a piece the Lions are looking to trade, will be entering his third season with the Lions, where he has amassed 553 yards and five touchdowns through a total of 18 games. Raymond was another bright spot for the Lions last year, as he also took advantage of a thin wide receiver room and accumulated 576 yds for four touchdown’s.

Tight End:
The TE position has been dominated by one major name over the past three seasons, T.J Hockenson. Hockenson was selected with the eighth pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. Since then, Hockenson has averaged only 42 yds per game over the 40 games he has played with the Lions. That number doesn’t jump off the page, but that can be contributed to Hockenson being the only target on prior Lion’s offense. With more weapons to be accounted for by defenses, look for Hockenson to get more opportunities in the passing game and show his true potential has a top ten pick.

Going down the Tight End depth chart, not many other names pop out. Brock Wright will be a second year tight end out of Notre Dame and was utilized sparingly in the passing game last year. The Lions drafted 6’4” James Mitchell out of Virgina Tech in the fifth round of the 2022 NFL Draft. At Virgina Tech, Mitchell put up decent receiving numbers. So look for his role this year to be something similar as a depth option behind Hockenson and Wright.

Offensive Line:
Things were looking promising for this unit at the beginning of last season. Coming into 2021, center Frank Ragnow had signed the largest contract for that position in the history of the NFL. Unfortunately, Ragnow only appeared in four games for the Lions due to a toe injury. Ragnow will hope to complete a full season for the Lions in 2022. With the seventh pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Lions selected RT Penei Sewell. Many dubbed Sewell as a sure-fire Hall of Famer, so it was easy to see why the Lions took a swing on the 6’5” 331lb lineman from Oregon. Sewell had a PFF grade of 77 last year with the Lions and only allowed 5 sacks off the right edge. Looking ahead, Sewell will look to continue to grow and cut down on his T-third most penalties league wide.

For the other tackle position, Taylor Decker will continue to protect Jared Goff’s blind spot. Decker, also a former first round pick by the Lions, is entering his 7th season for the Lions. PFF gave him an overall grade of 75 and only gave up two sacks. However, Decker missed half the season last year due to finger surgery. So he along with Ragnow will look to stay off the injury report this season. As for the guards, look for Jonah Jackson (PFF 69, 3 year pro) and Halapoulivaati Vaitai (PFF 68, 7 year pro) to take the LG and RG positions respectively entering camp. The unit as a whole looks solid on paper. When the unit was healthy last season, PFF ranked the group 13 in their end of season offensive line rankings. Look for the Lions offensive line to be a bright spot in 2022.

One thing is for sure heading into the 2022 season for the Detroit Lions offense. They will have weapons. St. Brown, Jameson Williams (when he gets healthy), Hockenson, and Swift coupled with more than capable tertiary options in Jamal Williams and Chark will give the offense plenty of firepower. It’s going to come down to new playcaller Ben Johnson and whether he can get the most out of Goff while working out the kinks of being a first time playcaller/new offense. And if the offensive line can stay healthy this may be a dangerous unit for any defense that lines up against them. Next time we will flip sides and see what to expect from the defense heading into Lions training camp 2022.