The Detroit Lions are entering the 2022 season with a renewed sense of optimism after an exciting off-season, capped off with a great look at the coaching staff on Hard Knocks. The optimism mainly revolves around Dan Campbell and the coaching staff's ability to bring the best out of the roster. Additionally, free agents like DJ Chark and DeShon Elliot add solid starters at positions of need. On top of free agency, the Lions expect big contributions from their rookie class headlined by 2nd overall pick, Aidan Hutchinson and Hard Knocks darling Malcolm Rodriguez. With an improved roster and another year in the same systems, here are Lions who are poised to have their best seasons.
D'Andre Swift, RB
2021 Stats: 151 rushes, 617 yards, 62 receptions, 452 yards, 7 total touchdowns
The former second-round pick, D'Andre Swift, entered the league as a highly-touted running back with game-changing potential. Last year, Swift racked up over 1,000 all-purpose yards, but with his gifts, he can do even more. On Hard Knocks, RBs coach Deuce Staley believes the same, saying that Swift can be the best running back in the league. Swift also agrees, believing he can accomplish the rare feat of 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in the same year (via Dave Birkett of Free Press). He may not do that, but the offense should allow him to increase his output.
The Lions' offensive line will be key in creating space for Swift. With the best center in football, Frank Ragnow returning, a more experienced Peneii Sewell, and Taylor Decker back, the offensive line should be one of the best run-blocking units, health permitting. The passing game can also stretch the defense to free up space underneath. With DJ Chark and Jameson Williams stretching defenses, Swift will have more space underneath both as a receiver and rusher. The improved offense around him will allow D'Andre Swift to become a weapon and match-up nightmare for opposing teams.
Alim McNeill, DT
2021 Stats: 39 tackles, 3 TFLs, 2 sacks, 3 QB hits
Despite a modest stat line, Alim McNeill had a promising rookie year that he can continue to build on. Last season, McNeil mainly played at nose tackle in a space-eating role. This season, the Lions are switching the defensive line philosophy from more 2 gap space eating to a 1 gap scheme with more penetration. Unlike most 330-pound linemen, this should actually benefit McNeill, who can now slide all over the defensive line and play all the way out to the three-technique. No matter where he lines up, McNeill's quickness and size make him a chore for any interior lineman to stop when shooting a gap.
On top of that, McNeill will be lower on opposing scouting reports to start the season. Charles Harris put himself back on the map with a great season and looks even better this camp. Also, when Romeo Okwara returns from injury he can be a 10-sack guy. The cherry on top, rookie Aidan Hutchinson should be a force to be reckoned with on all three downs. The focus on the edge will free up McNeill to deal with more single teams and allow him to pressure up the middle. With injuries to Levi Onwuzurike and Josh Pachal, McNeill will need to step up, but he should be able to step up and become a disruptive force.
Jeff Okudah, CB
2021 Stats: 4 tackles, 1 pass breakup (injured during game 1)
Jeff Okudah has had an incredibly difficult start to his career. Okudah had great expectations after being selected third overall. He struggled mightily in his first year after dealing with COVID protocols and the historically bad Matt Patricia defense. With the new staff, Okudah earned a starting job and looked better in game one before rupturing his Achilles and ending his season. After being cleared, Okudah's training camp and preseason has been up and down before earning a starting spot again. Despite the rocky play to start his career, it's still too early to give up on the 23-year-old. Despite the Achilles injury, Okudah hasn't slowed down and has the gifts to be a good corner in the NFL. He's shown at both Ohio State and in flashes all the right techniques and skills as well.
The key for Okudah will be on the mental side of the game. Okudah has faced nothing but adversity since entering the league, and he will need to gain the confidence and swagger required to play corner in the NFL for the Lions. As he plays better, he will gain more confidence, and as his confidence grows, he will play better. If that is able to snowball, Okudah should be able to live up to his lofty potential. The key with him will be working with Aubrey Pleasant and Aaron Glenn when he does get beat to not let it affect his confidence. If he does that, Okudah should secure his spot as CB1 and stop the bust narrative.
.@jeffokudah denies the touchdown. 🙅♂️
— NFL (@NFL) August 28, 2022
The Detroit Lions improved this off-season and should compete week in and week out. D'Andre Swift, Alim McNeill, and Jeff Okudah are in a great spot to benefit from these improvements. A better deep passing attack and improved O-line play will help Swift get into space where he is lethal. The new scheme and added talent in the front will help McNeill get into the backfield in one-on-one matchups. The improved pass rush should also help Okudah as his confidence and abilities grow. As the season kicks off this Sunday against the Eagles, look for these players to have a bigger impact than in previous years for the Detroit Lions.