The 2022 NFL Draft begins on April 28, which means that The Game Haus will be writing draft profiles for every team. Each NFL team will be evaluated heading into this year’s draft, as our staff recaps their last season, highlights their needs, and pinpoints their potential 2022 NFL Draft targets. The Detroit Lions are the subject of today’s 2022 NFL Draft profile.
Going into this past season it was no secret that the Detroit Lions were ready to tear their team down and begin a rebuild. The major move that new general manager Brad Holmes made that marked the beginning of the rebuild was trading Matthew Stafford. Detroit had traded their former Pro Bowl quarterback Matthew Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams for Los Angeles’ 2022 first-round pick, 2023 first-round pick, a 2021 third-round pick, and former first overall pick quarterback Jared Goff. Even though the team finished with a 3-13-1 record this past season, their player bought into new head coach Dan Campbell‘s “biting kneecaps” mentality and fought to try to win every game.
Jared Goff did enough during his first season in Detroit to be deemed the team’s starter next season. He threw for 3,245 passing yards, 19 touchdowns, and eight interceptions this past season. Goff only played in 14 games last season due to injury. Considering the team Goff had to work with last season it is fair to say that he played well overall.
The Lions had let wide receivers Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones Jr. leave in free agency and failed to replace them in free agency. So the Lions’ offense was very one-dimensional behind 2020 second-round pick running back D’Andre Swift and former Packers running back Jamaal Williams. Even though Williams started more games than Swift this year, Swift was considered the lead back in the Lions backfield. Swift led the team with 617 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns. While Williams was not far behind with 601 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns. Swift also caught 62 passes for 452 receiving yards and two receiving touchdowns. Williams on the other hand only caught 26 passes for 157 receiving yards. Both running backs only played in 13 games last season.
Many thought Detroit’s leading receiver this year would be 2020-21 Pro Bowl tight end T.J. Hockenson. But Hockenson was limited to only 12 games last season due to injuries and had 61 catches for 583 receiving yards and four receiving touchdowns. Instead, it was 2021 fourth-round pick Amon-Ra St. Brown who ended up leading the team in receiving by the end of the season. St. Brown emerged as a legitimate threat for this offense late in the season. From Weeks 12-17 he caught 51 of his 67 targets for 560 receiving yards and five receiving touchdowns. His stat line for his entire rookie season was 90 catches for 912 receiving yards and five receiving touchdowns.
Detroit’s defense was definitely a work in progress as it was one of the worst units in the league last year. Former third overall pick Jeff Okudah missed all but one game last season because of a ruptured Achilles tendon. This led to the emergence of former Day 3 pick Amani Oruwariye who had six interceptions this past year. Detroit also got promising production out of rookie cornerbacks Jerry Jacobs and third-round pick Ifeatu Melifonwu. Other rookies Alim McNeil and Derrick Barnes played key roles for the Lions’ defense this past season. Former 2017 first-round pick of the Miami Dolphins Charles Harris had a breakout season in his first year in Detroit. In the first full-time starting role of his NFL career, he led the Lions with 7.5 sacks.
Unlike the team selecting before the Lions in the first round, Detroit has been quiet this offseason when it came to signing free agents. They saved over $10 million in cap space by letting go of pass rusher Trey Flowers. Detroit retained multiple of their free agents including Josh Reynolds, Tim Boyle, Alex Anzalone, Tracy Walker, Charles Harris, and Khalif Raymond. Walker signed a three-year $25 million deal to stay in Detroit. Harris earned a two-year $13 million extension after leading the team in sacks this past season.
A few of the big-name free agents the Lions signed included former Pro Bowl wide receiver D.J. Chark (one year $10 million), former first-round pick cornerback Mike Hughes (one year $3.5 million), and Detroit’s former first-round pick from 2017 Jarrad Davis resigned with the team after one year with the New York Jets.
2022 NFL Picks
Detroit will have eight picks to use in the 2022 NFL Draft
First Round (two picks): No. 2, No. 32
Second Round (one pick): No. 34
Third Round (two picks): No. 66, No. 97
Fourth Round (zero picks):
Fifth Round (one pick): No. 177
Sixth Round (two picks): No. 181, No. 218
Seventh Round (one pick): No. 235
Quarterback- Jared Goff is a fine quarterback but he likely isn’t the team’s long-term answer at the position. Detroit could take a young quarterback early to sit behind Goff this season and potentially be their long-term starter going forward.
Edge Rusher- Only two teams had fewer sacks than the Lions last season. Detroit should look for a young pass rusher capable of having double-digit sacks for them consistently. This would move veterans Romeo Okwara and Charles Harris into rotational roles on the Lions’ defense.
Wide Receiver- Amon-Ra St. Brown was a nice find in the fourth round last season. But the Lions are going to need more than St. Brown and Chark to put together an explosive offense next year. Plus Jared Goff best seasons when he had elite pass catchers in Los Angeles.
Linebacker- The Lions are lacking a leader in the middle of their defense. Detroit should target a linebacker early they feel comfortable replacing Alex Anzalone and playing next to second-year player Derrick Barnes for the foreseeable future. Taking a linebacker early could help the Lions improve their run defense which was among the worst in the league last season.
Safety- Bringing back Tracy Walker was an underwhelming signing considering all the talented safeties on the market that were available for the Lions. Detroit could still target a safety early in this draft to pair with Walker and replace Will Harris who was not been a consistent starter since the team drafted him in 2019.
Cornerback- On paper, the Detroit Lions appear to have four cornerbacks they should feel comfortable playing major snaps for their defense next season. However, it is unclear how many of them will be around for the long-term in Detroit. Mike Hughes is only on a one-year deal, Amani Oruwariye only has one year left on his rookie deal, and Jeff Okudah could easily fall out of favor of the Lions coaching staff if he struggles in camp this year.
2022 Draft Targets
Pick No. 2: Ikem Ekwonu, OT, N.C. State
Offensive tackle is nowhere near the list of priorities for the Detroit Lions. But the Lions didn’t need a tackle last year when they took Oregon offensive lineman Penei Sewell in the first round. That selection showed that Brad Holmes is not afraid to take the best player available early instead of reaching on a need. It is very likely the best players available when the Lions are on the clock with the second overall pick are going to be Alabama tackle Evan Neal and N.C. State tackle Ikem Ekwonu.
Detroit could favor Ekwonu over Neal because his nastiness as a blocker fits the culture Dan Campbell has instilled this past year. Plus taking Ekwonu would allow Sewell to move back to his natural position of left tackle. Then Detroit could shop veteran tackle Taylor Decker who has been solid, but not a Pro Bowl-caliber tackle like Sewell or Ekwonu project to be.
This selection would give Detroit two elite bookend tackles along their offensive line that already features Pro Bowlers Frank Ragnow and Jonah Jackson. The Lions would have a top-5 offensive line next season if this was the pick.
Pick No. 32: Lewis Cine, S, Georgia
Instead of taking Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton with the second overall pick, Detroit can take the second-best safety in the class at the end of the first round in Georgia’s Lewis Cine. Last year Cine played a major part in Georgia winning the National Championship. Cine is a hard-hitting safety who is capable of making big plays when his team needs one. His athleticism and size should give him the versatility to play either safety position after a few years in the league. However, Cine will likely start his career at strong safety being responsible for stopping the run and occasionally lining up in man coverage against opposing pass catcher.
Cine has the potential to be a major upgrade over Will Harris who should be the third safety on an NFL team. Detroit would prioritize taking Cine here instead of at pick #34 because Jacksonville could very well take Cine with the first pick in the second round.
Pick No. 34: David Ojabo, EDGE, Michigan
The unfortunate draft process for Michigan pass rusher David Ojabo may benefit the Detroit Lions at the top of the second round. It seems unlikely that the Lions could keep Aidan Hutchinson in the state since he is likely to go first overall. However, they could easily have a shot at drafting his teammate David Ojabo at the top of the second round.
Many thought Ojabo should have returned to school to continue developing further as a prospect. However, Ojabo decided to declare for the 2022 NFL Draft because even though he was considered a raw prospect he likely would have been drafted between the 7th-20th picks in the first round. Tradjectly Ojabo tore his Achillies during the Michigan pro day which is going to shoot down his draft stock. Many expect Ojabo to go near the top of the second round around the range of where Jaylon Smith and Myles Jack went in the 2016 NFL draft after they dealt with similar situations.
Detroit could be the perfect home for Ojabo because they already have three solid pass rushers in place in Charles Harris, Romeo Okwara, and Julian Okwara who can be trusted to take major snaps for them while Ojabo heals from his injury then refine his game. When healthy Ojabo could be the double-digit sack edge rusher the Lions lack and desperately need on this defense.
Pick No. 66: Desmond Ridder, QB, Cincinnati
The Detroit Lions may have to trade up in the second round if they want to select Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder. However, it wouldn’t be shocking for Ridder to fall into the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft depending on where the other quarterbacks land.
Ridder checks off a lot of major boxes for Detroit. He is a larger quarterback who has a strong arm and is mobile. Ridder also showed during his time at Cincinnati that he could be a great leader on a team not used to having great success. He led the Cincinnati Bearcats to the College Football Playoffs this past season which is no easy feat considering they play in the AAC. Cincinnati was the first AAC team to ever make the college football playoffs. That type of leadership would be a major selling point for a Lions team who have not had major team success throughout team history (especially in recent years).
If the Lions were to draft Ridder he would almost definitely sit him behind Jared Goff for the entire 2022-23 season. Ridder is very raw as a prospect but has the tools to be a starting quarterback in the NFL and possibly a very good one. Drafting Ridder in the third round could be a gem for Detroit if he developed into their long-term starting quarterback.
Pick No. 97: Calvin Austin III, WR, Memphis
Detroit has the luxury of waiting to address their need for another wide receiver because Amon-Ra St. Brown, D.J. Chark, T.J. Hockenson, and D’Andre Swift are expected to all have major roles in the Lions passing game. However, the Lions do need to add another wide receiver to line up on the outside opposite Chark.
Memphis wide receiver Calvin Austin III may be small in stature but he is a big play waiting to happen. He gained national attention after his performance during Senior Bowl week and then his performance from the NFL combine. He could very well fall victim to being a part of a deep wide receiver class and land in the third round despite being one of the most explosive receivers in this year’s draft.
The Lions could have Austin compete with Josh Reynolds and Khalif Raymond for the starting Y-receiver in his rookie season and likely start games for the Lions late in his rookie year or in his second season in the league. He could be trusted to stretch the field opening up more opportunities for St. Brown and Hockenson in the middle of the field.