Inside the Article:
The Detroit Lions received significant contributions from their rookies in 2022 which led to a vast improvement over the span of the year and a 9-8 record. After their rookie year, this draft class appears to be a masterclass by Brad Holmes. Each rookie has found ways to contribute already and several should be core pieces going forward. Let's review how each draft pick fared in their debut.
2nd Overall: Aidan Hutchinson
Rookie year stats: 17 games, 52 tackles, 9.5 sacks, 9 TFLs, 3 INTs, 2 FR
Coming out of Michigan, Aidan Hutchinson had huge expectations after being taken second overall. Hutchinson started the season slowly as he was prone to inexperienced mistakes. However, what makes Hutchinson special is his ability to learn from those mistakes and continue to improve. That paired with his tremendous physical gifts made him such a highly touted prospect.
By the end of the year, Hutchinson was a three-down lineman who never had to leave the field. Against the run, he was much more disciplined and bottled up running backs and quarterbacks. As a pass rusher, Hutchinson showed more moves to pair with his tenacity. He ended the year just shy of 10 sacks, leading all rookies despite being constantly double-teamed. The cherry on top for Hutchinson was the interceptions. Hutchinson has the tools and smarts to drop into a zone, and once there, he made some incredibly athletic plays to grab interceptions.
Hutchinson should be the leader on the defense for a very long time. He has the talent needed to be one of the best defensive ends in the league; plus, his work ethic, coachability, and tenacity make him the ideal player to define the identity of the defense. Hutchinson had sky-high expectations inside and outside the organization and lived up to all of them in year one.
12th Overall: Jameson Williams
Rookie year stats: 6 games, 81 all-purpose yards, 40.5 yards per touch, 1 TD
After Hutchinson, the Lions traded up in the first round to select Jameson Williams. Williams was coming off an ACL tear and did not practice until late in the season. With the injury, the Lions brought Williams on cautiously, and without enough practice time, he could not get his timing down with Goff.
Every time Williams touched the ball, it was electric. His only two official touches from scrimmage went for 40 yards each, and one ended in the end zone. His only other catch was called back for a penalty, but it would have been a 65-yard touchdown if it stood.
This offseason will be big for Williams. Now that he is healthy, he should use the opportunity to get his timing and route running down with Goff and veteran receivers. If he does that, Williams has proven that he is a big play waiting to happen every time he gets the ball.
46th Overall: Josh Paschal
Rookie year stats: 10 games, 16 tackles, 2 TFLs, 2 sacks
Josh Paschal was another rookie who had some bad injury luck in his rookie year. In training camp, he went down with a hernia injury, so he did not make his debut until Week 7. After that, he battled minor injuries that held him out of two contests and limited him in others.
When he did play, Paschal was solid but unspectacular. As a big end, Paschal looked good against the run. With his quickness, strength, and technique, Paschal projects as a high-end run defender. Against the pass, Paschal does not have the speed to play on the edge, but he can slide down to defensive tackle. He won't be elite as a rusher, but against the Bears, he showed his ability to collapse the pocket and disrupt the quarterback.
Paschal did not stand out in this rookie class due to his lack of splash plays and poor injury luck, but he should be a valuable, versatile piece on the defensive line next year and beyond. On early downs, Paschal should get plenty of time across for Hutchinson as he is the best run defender of the Lions' ends. Paschal won't get as much time on passing downs, but he can definitely have a role in rush packages if he improves in year two.
97th Overall: Kerby Joseph
Rookie year stats: 17 games, 82 tackles, 4 INTs, 2 FFs
Third-round pick, Kerby Joseph was thrust into the starting lineup after the injury to Tracy Walker. Joseph was incredibly raw entering the NFL as he recently converted from offense to safety at Illinois. With the way he played, it would be impossible to tell.
Joseph was a big play machine for the Lions' defense and played a huge role in limiting opposing offenses. Joseph shined playing over the top and made some huge plays as the deep safety. When there, Joseph had great closing speed and ball skills allowing him to make plays on deep passes. With those skills, Joseph ended the year with four interceptions (three off Aaron Rodgers) and was so close to having another two or three more.
Joseph proved himself as a ball-hawking turnover machine as a deep safety and should be a starter next to Walker in 2023. To take the next step, Joseph needs to improve his run support and man coverage. If he improves just one of these, Joseph will be a good starter with the potential to be one of the best deep safeties in the league.
177th Overall: James Mitchell
Rookie year stats: 14 games, 11 catches, 113 yards, 1 TD
In the fifth round, the Lions selected another player coming off an ACL tear with James Mitchell out of Virginia Tech. With the injury, Mitchell missed time at the start of the year and needed a longer ramp-up period than normal rookies. Mitchell missed the first three games and played scarcely once he was healthy. However, after the TJ Hockenson trade, Mitchell entered the tight end rotation.
Once he entered the rotation, Mitchell did a little bit of everything. He isn't the best blocker by any means, but he gives good effort and flashed serious upside as a blocker. As a receiver, Mitchell was perfect, catching all 11 of his targets on the year. Mitchell is not an explosive downfield threat, but he found soft spots in zones and got open underneath. Mitchell probably won't become an All-Pro receiving type threat at tight end, but his combination of blocking and receiving makes him a perfect fit for the Lions' offense. It allows the offense to disguise their looks, and the threat of his blocking makes it much easier for him to get open.
188th Overall: Malcolm Rodriguez
Rookie year stats: 16 games, 87 tackles, 1 FF, 1 FR, 1 sack
Malcolm Rodriguez got off to the best start of all the rookies. The 6th round pick was a Hard Knocks darling and immediately earned a starting spot at linebacker. Rodriguez fell in the draft due to his size, but his speed and smarts allowed him to grab the starting spot.
Rodriguez played really well against the run. His speed allowed him to cover sideline to sideline shutting down opposing running backs. In coverage, Rodriguez was not terrible by any means as he was quick and smart enough to cover his zone, but Rodriguez was far from a great coverage linebacker or a pass-rushing linebacker. For the first time in a very very long time, the Lions have an athletic linebacker, and if he can grow in coverage, he could be special.
217th Overall: James Houston
Rookie year stats: 7 games, 8 sacks, 12 tackles, 1 FF
James Houston was the only Lions' draft pick to not make the initial roster. Houston did not look great in the preseason and was clearly not ready to contribute from Day One. Luckily, Houston survived waivers and returned to the practice squad to make the 53-man roster. If a team did snag Houston the entire outlook on the draft would look much different.
Once Houston did get his chance, he came roaring onto the scene with two sacks. From there, Houston did not slow down accumulating eight sacks in just seven games. That stretch of games was not only unseen from a rookie; he was breaking all-time pass rushing efficiency numbers. Outside of pass rushing, Houston is still very raw. He is severely undersized for a defensive end, so the Lions did not trust him in early downs. But, Houston is athletic enough to overcome his size deficiencies. At the very least, Houston is an elite pass-rush specialist, but with his gifts, he could be something even more.
237th Overall: Chase Lucas
Rookie year stats: 6 games, 3 tackles
Their final pick of the draft, Chase Lucas was a depth piece and a special teamer in 2022. Lucas was the backup nickel back and even spent some time as an emergency safety. Unfortunately, Lucas battled ankle and hamstring injuries during the year, limiting his impact. Lucas did show some ability in the preseason showing his above-average instincts in the slot. Next year, Lucas should compete for a nickelback role, and he could even with the starting spot with improvement.