Training camp is well underway and our Detroit Lions have already put on the pads, and before long, they will be playing their first preseason game of 2022.
If the Lions are going to bounce back from their 2021 season which saw them finish with a 3-13-1 record, they are going to need some of their younger players to take a big step forward in 2022.
In a recent article published on ESPN, River McCown of Football Outsiders put together a list of 25 players who could have a break-out season in 2022.
Here are the criteria that were used for the list.
- Drafted in the third round or later, or signed as an undrafted free agent.
- Entered the NFL between 2019 and 2021.
- Fewer than 500 career offensive or defensive snaps (except running backs, who are allowed just 300 offensive snaps).
- Have not signed a contract extension (players who have bounced around the league looking for the right spot, however, still qualify for the list).
- Age 26 or younger as of Sept. 1, 2022.
3 Detroit Lions who could break out in 2022
According to River McCown of Football Outsiders, three Detroit Lions who could break out in 2022 are Alim McNeil, Julian Okwara, and Ifeatu Melifonwu. In fact, he has all three of those players ranked in the Top 12!
Here is some of what McCown had to say about McNeil, Okwara, and Melifonwu being potential break-out players for the Lions in 2022.
Make sure to click here to read the rest.
Playing behind Michael Brockers and Nick Williams in an inside rotation in 2021, McNeill led Lions interior players with two sacks and finished second with eight hurries. He also had the highest run stop rate (68%) among Detroit's interior linemen. All of McNeill's hurries came on first or second down.
The offseason depth chart has unfolded nicely for McNeill, as fellow rookie John Penisini's abrupt retirement left a three-man rotation of McNeill, Brockers and 2021 second-rounder Levi Onwuzurike inside. McNeill figures to take over as a starter this year. The question about his value will simply be: Is he a very good nose tackle for run downs, or is he going to be able to play on passing downs?
Okwara finished second on the Lions in hurries (12) and sacks (five) in 2022 despite playing only 362 snaps. The average number of rushers on his pressures was just 4.3, so Okwara was winning one-on-one often in those situations.
Detroit has promised more of a hybrid role for Okwara this offseason after drafting Aidan Hutchinson and Josh Paschal early. They want him to play Sam linebacker on run downs and rush the passer as part of a third-down package. We're not sure if he can hold up to all the modern linebacker responsibilities, but we're already believers that he can get after the quarterback at a high level.
Melifonwu, like a few other Lions, has been taken into OTAs as a versatility test case, and has been mentioned for a possible move to safety. “If we don't do it now, you may not end up doing it,” Dan Campbell said. “The more that we can figure out about our players, the better off we are. I think that only helps us. … The more you guys that you have that have versatility, flexibility inside your scheme, man it really helps you.”
Frankly, it's hard to believe that A.J. Parker and Jerry Jacobs are better options outside than Melifonwu would be physically, but with Jeff Okudah possibly back and Kerby Joseph also added to the secondary, Melifonwu may just be trying to find a spot to start.
Nation, which youngsters on the Detroit Lions do you think will have a break-out season in 2022?