Positional grades for the Detroit Lions’ 2022 53-man roster

The current Detroit Lions roster is relatively Once finalized, it’s time to take a look at the squad they’ve put together and note their strengths and weaknesses. Of course, the Lions will be making roster changes between now and January, but the core of this team is in place and we know starters at nearly every position, so now is a good time to rate the roster.

For some perspective, you can check out our team’s results from last year here.

This year, those scores were largely determined by the starters at each position, but depth — including training classes and players planning to recover from injuries — was factored into the final score.

quarterback

starter: Jared Goff
Backup: Nate Sudfield

Goff had an excellent training camp, and there is certainly reason to be optimistic that it will carry over into the regular season. We’ve all seen how Goff finished the 2021 season, and his supporting role is much better than last year.

But let’s not go too far here.Goff has another a lot of prove. He’s only played one competitive football this preseason, and questions remain about how he handles the actual pressure from other defenses and the rising pressure of expectations.

The backup situation is a bit confusing. In terms of talent level, Sudfield is acceptable, but given that he’s just joined the team, the Lions are really vulnerable if Goff is injured or ill early in the season. If he has to get into the game, they’ll have to limit the script considerably, and Sudfield may not be Goff’s best teacher assistant right now.

Grade: C-

running back

Starter: DeAndre Swift, Jamal Williams
Backup: Craig Grenoz
practice group: Justin Jackson, Gemma Jefferson
Returning from injury: Jason Cabinda (Reserve/PUP)

The Lions rate Swift high, but will the former second-round pick live up to expectations? Like Goff, it feels like the Lions have put Swift in the perfect position to make him stand out, and now he has to prove it. We’ve seen enough of the highlights of Swift’s game to know what his true abilities are, and now just have to put them together for a full season. Williams is a regular “Thunder” to Swift’s “Lightning”, but he has a new leadership role on the team and he’s a relatively reliable short-yarder.

The Lions have managed to maintain all their impressive depth from the preseason — except for Godwin Igwerbeck — giving them a very well-rounded unit with plenty of upside.

Grade: B

tense ending

starter: TJ Hockenson
Backup: Brock Wright, Sean Zelstra, James Mitchell
practice group: Garrett Griffin, Derek Diess

It’s time for Hockenson to prove if he’s just an above-average tight end, or if he can truly be at the elite level. His evolving blocking skills remain the biggest hurdle to taking the next step, but he can also improve on his catch-up yardage.

As for the depth of the team, it is all young people. Wright and Zylstra — both sophomores after being undrafted last season — looked to improve in training camp, but they still have a long way to go before they prove they can be consistent contributors. The team’s fifth-round pick, Mitchell, is the most promising player in the group, but he’s not ready just yet.

Grade: C+

wide receiver

Starter: DJ Chark, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Josh Reynolds
Backup: Calif Raymond, Quintesse Severs
practice group: Tom Kennedy, Maurice Alexander
Returning from injury: Jameson Williams (Reserve/NFI)

Last year, the group got an F, and rightfully so. Oh what a difference a year makes. St. Brown is on the cusp of stardom. Reynolds sparked the Lions late last season, Known as one of the most improved players in this camp. Join hungry DJs Chark and Jameson Williams midway through the season, and the band has a chance to shine this year.

Even the depth is filled with players who have proven capable of contributing on offense. Raymond is someone who will still get a lot of attention on offense, and Cyphers would bring some physical skills to the position when healthy.

Grade: B+

offensive line

Starter: Tyler Decker, Jonah Jackson, Frank Ragnot, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Penei Sewell
Backup: Matt Nelson, Evan Brown, Tommy Kramer, Logan Steinberg
practice group: Dan Skipper, Obina Eze

Expectations are high for the starters in this group. We’ve seen these five guys play well individually, but as a group, they’ve only played together in the preseason. By the end of the year, they could actually have three Pro bowlers on the unit — that’s how much to expect from a group with three first-round picks.

There are certainly some legitimate issues with depth, though. The Lions don’t have a solid backup offensive tackle as Nelson struggled at the position last year, and Dan Skipper and Obina Eze are options for “breakthrough in an emergency.” However, interior depth is more promising. Brown may be the best backup center in the league, and while both Kramer and Steinberg are inexperienced, they have shown a lot of growth over the past year.

Grade: A-

defensive line

Starter: Aidan Hutchinson, Michael Bullocks, Alim McNeill, Charles Harris
Backup: Levi Onwuzurike, Isaiah Burgess, Demetrius Taylor, Benito Jones, Julian Ovala, Austin Bryant, John Kominsky
practice group: James Huston, Bruce Hector
Returning from injury: Romeo Okwara (Reserve/PUP), Josh Paschall (Reserve/PUP)

After Charles Harris’ breakout season last year and the addition of No. 2 overall pick Aidan Hutchinson, Detroit’s edge looks a lot better. The duo looked like a nasty duo in training camp, even going up against a talented pair of offensive tackles in Detroit. Austin Bryant had a great offseason as a rotation backup, and there’s little hope for Julian Okwara we’ve seen. If Romeo Ovara can come back and provide any meaningful play, this could be one of the deeper, most talented units on the team.

However, there are far more questions about the interior. Michael Brockers aren’t getting younger, they just don’t look like the spoilers they want or need. Levi Onwuzurike and Josh Paschal are not close to recovering from injuries, which means they will miss valuable time to get better. Demetrius Taylor looks like a good option, but expectations for undrafted rookies should be kept relatively low. Detroit’s pair of nose tackles — Isaiah Baggs and Benito Jones — are the team’s newest additions and have seven starts at the NFL level.

However, Alim McNeil could be a star. We saw the flash last year, and the Lions coaches couldn’t hide their excitement about his growth in Year 2.

Grade: C+

linebacker

Starter: Alex Anzalon, Malcolm Rodriguez, Derek Barnes
Backup: Chris Bird, Josh Woods
practice group: Jared Davis, Anthony Pittman

Expectations for this unit going into camp are very low. We scoffed when the coach told us that competition would be at its best with an unproven group of young players.

Well, fast forward a month, sixth-round pick Malcolm Rodriguez is playing really well, he’s considering starting Week 1, second-year Derrick Barnes Barnes) got this compliment from his position coach:

“Derrick Barnes is coming, it’s true. That player is a very explosive, very violent, very strong linebacker.”

I’m not ready to crown this unit in any way, though. Alex Anzalone is still a severely limited player and I’m not ready to benefit Rodriguez or Barnes until they start the regular season.

I do like the depth of this team, though. Both Chris Bird and Josh Woods are excellent special forces players with considerable advantages on the defensive end.

Grade: C-

cornerback

Starter: Amani Oluirier, Jeff Okuda, Mike Hughes
Backup: Will Harris, Bobby Price, Chase Lucas
practice group: AJ Parker, Sevion Smith
Returning from injury: Jerry Jacobs (Reserve/PUP)

This is another unit that comes into camp with a lot of questions. Many of them remain unanswered. Okudah did a great job proving that he wasn’t physically limited by an Achilles injury, and his progress throughout training camp was very promising. But he’s only played 10 games, he’s not mature enough, and he still has a lot to prove.

Amani Oruwariye didn’t play much in the preseason. While he showed some notable growth over the last year, it remains to be seen whether he can rise above the mid-to-low CB1 in this league.

Depth is an extreme issue here because the Lions now don’t have a trusted outside cornerback in their reserves — even though he’s still a very young player — until Jacobs returns from the PUP.

Nickel is in a relatively favorable position. While Hughes isn’t a top player at the position, the Lions have a young developmental player in Chase Lucas with AJ Parker’s experience on the practice squad.

Grade: D+

Safety

starter: Tracy Walker, Deshaun Elliott
Backup: Ifeatu Melifonwu, Kerby Joseph, JuJu Hughes

Understandably, the Lions feel good about Walker as a starter and defensive leader. Opposite him, Elliott needs to prove he can stay healthy all season, but he has shown — at least — average safety on the field.

Again, though, depth is a serious concern here. With Melifungou starting the season with an injury, Detroit is nowhere near starting extremely raw rookie Kerby Joseph or JuJu Hughes, who has played 35 NFL defenses in his career.

Grade: C-

expert

starters: Jack Fox (P), Austin Seibert (K), Scott Daly (LS)
practice group: Aldric Rosas (K)

I can’t imagine the Lions feeling good about their play after Seibert and Riley Patterson showed quite a bit of inconsistency throughout training camp. But Seibert has a thigh that will help with the kickoff and give the team a chance to win games with 50-plus-yard field goals.

Don’t worry about the punters or the long snappers at all, as Fox remains one of the best punters in the league, and Daly has had no issues with him this year as Don Mulbach’s heir.

Grade: B

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