It’s common knowledge at this point that the Lions are in the midst of a pretty intense rebuild. After firing almost their entire Office Staff including their uninspiring Head Coach, Matt Patricia, they wanted something different. A new culture.
Enter the gritty, kneecap-biting, former Detroit Tight End, Dan “Alpha-Male” Campbell. At first, the coach hire seemed out of place, but as Campbell began to talk to the press, and as Campbell began coaching this team, it all became clear. The front office wanted to build up front and develop through the trenches. Bring an aggressive style to a team that has lacked any sort of culture in the past decade except one surrounding heartbreaking games and losing seasons. Quite obviously, a culture based on winning and aggression should be built on leadership and the players the team brings in to fit their culture the most. So, I will be taking a deep dive into the 5 Most Valuable Players for the Lions this season and how their impact will play into the Lions’ success.
5: Amani Oruwariye, CB
Choosing Oruwariye in the number five spot may come as a surprise for most. His coverage skills coming into the 2021 season were inconsistent at best, and he didn’t make up for it through the interceptions metric (1). However, during the 2021 season, Amani proved a lot of things to the Lions. Oruwariye showed fairly consistent coverage and was a complete ballhawk. He tallied six interceptions, often making circus catches and mossing receivers to get to the football at any cost. There was also the consistent catching of errant balls or deflections, plays that Oruwariye often struggled to make in his sophomore season. On top of this, he had 11 Pass Breakups, many of which were plays that easily could have been made on less-consistent corners. The 11 PBUs were comfortably a career-high for the young defensive back. A leader is desperately needed in this secondary, and someone will have to step up. For the secondary to perform well, Oruwariye must be that guy. If he plays to his ceiling, he will be the leader of this up-and-coming group, that is why he is number five.
4: Aidan Hutchinson, DE
When you’re the No.2 Overall pick in the Draft, expectations are automatically set high. This is especially true for the defensive end position, as getting pressure on the QB and stopping runs from bouncing outside are some of the most important factors of a defensive scheme. After his very noteworthy preseason, I think Hutchinson holds the keys to the castle. The rookie’s ability to crash down on inside runs (see the Falcons preseason game) or how he pursues any kind of play with outstanding effort are qualities all teams want from their defensive playmakers. Comparing this to the effort the NFL has seen from even veteran players, it proves that Hutchinson is putting his heart on the field and making plays that will matter in the long run. For this Lions team, it all starts up front, no matter what side of the ball you are on. Knowing this, Hutchinson needs to stand out as a leader, especially after Romeo Okwara’s brutal Achilles tear, which we don’t even know if Okwara will be fully recovered from this season. We also don’t know if Romeo will retain his excellent athleticism which lead to many big plays for the defense. All in all, Hutchinson’s addition through the draft was a long time coming, and the Lions need all they can from this rookie, and if he performs to the level that I’m expecting, he will be the MVP on this defense.
3: Taylor Decker, LT
Remember when I said it all starts up front? Then it should come as no surprise that the Top four are placed the way they are. The first offensive lineman up at number three on this list is Taylor Decker. Had it not been for Penei Sewell’s dominant season after his switch to Right Tackle, Decker probably would have cracked the Top 2. Taylor Decker has been a very solid tackle for the Lions ever since he was drafted in 2016. In 2021, he played 529 snaps and only allowed two sacks off the blindside. He boasted a 75.5 Overall PFF grade which just shows how dominant he is when on the field. Many Lions fans were understandably upset when the team missed on Laken Tomlinson in the draft, or when they let go of Graham Glasgow, but the Lions are poised to have one of the best Offensive Lines in football. Decker is no slouch, whether it be run-blocking or pass-pro, he does it all. He will once again prove his worth this season, placing him at number three.
2: Penei Sewell, RT
Up at number two, it’s the Rookie Breakout tackle, Penei Sewell. Coming out of Oregon and then being selected at No. 6 overall in the 2021 NFL Draft, expectations were high for Sewell. Analysts saw Northwestern’s Rashawn Slater as the safer “floor” pick, but Sewell earned the highest PFF grade ever given to a college tackle, as a true sophomore! His upside was tremendous coming out of the draft, and it showed on the field. After a few shaky starts at left tackle, especially in pass protection snaps, he transferred to Right Tackle and saw an immediate change in his game. While he played Left Tackle at Oregon, his power-blocking game transferred much easier to the right tackle spot in the NFL. His PFF grades tell the entire story. He received a 68.5 grade through his 8 games at Left Tackle, but once he made the switch he obtained an 81.4 grade, the 4th best Right Tackle grade during that stretch of the season. The power that Sewell displayed is one that will keep opposing defenses on their toes, and his pass blocking is much better suited for the right side of the line, so there is no getting through the young tackle anymore. The Lions averaged 90.3 yards on the ground while Sewell was on the left side, but when he made the switch, the rushing yards per game jumped up to 130.3. That stat alone should tell the whole story. With Sewell being on the field is one of the most beneficial additions the team has seen, he deserves the nod at number two on this list.
1: Frank Ragnow, C
Who else would capture this spot except for Frank Ragnow? He is consistently the best player for the Lions when he is playing, and many people seem to forget that. He boasted an 86.7 PFF grade when he took the field last season, which was good for second in the league at center. In 2020, he had an 80.3 grade (No. 2 graded center), and in 2019 he had a 74.9 (No. 6 center). Ragnow is in contention for not only the best Offensive Lineman on the Lions but the best Center in the league. His toe injury last year held him out of 13 games, but that shouldn’t lead to understating his excellence when he takes the field. Ragnow has done nothing but improve his game, and that is insane for a player already as great as he is. If you need any reminders, Campbell wants to run the ball down the throat of the defense every single game. Ragnow is going to be the leader for that game plan, and he is dominant every time the ball is snapped. Therefore, his selection here at number one on this list is a true no-brainer.