I have to admit that this feels odd to write. For the past year and a half, I've called Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff a bridge quarterback, a stopgap answer for the organization. I still feel that way regarding his overall abilities at the position, but if everything goes as planned in 2022, Goff will be more than just a short-term answer.
Hear me out. Although Goff won't wow anyone, and when at his very best, he's nothing more than a middle-of-the-road game manager. That description doesn't exactly gush optimism, and nearly always comes across as a negative.
We need to throw last season away when examining Jared Goff's value.
It's unfair to judge Goff on last year's production knowing he was asked to move the chains with a banged-up offensive line and throwing to Kalif Raymond. I have nothing against Raymond, but he's best suited as a kick/punt returner and fifth receiver. In Detroit, he was asked to be the guy early on until the organization added Josh Reynolds, and St. Brown emerged as a top receiving threat. Ironically, that's when Goff's season began to turn around. Perhaps it was Dan Campbell taking over the play-calling duties or the upgrades at receiver, but it could have been a little bit of both.
The Detroit Lions overhauled their organization from top to bottom, gutting the fish, so to speak. Things quickly changed with Martha Ford stepping aside and handing the keys to her daughter Sheila Ford Hamp. With a whole new management team in place having what many of us feel like back-to-back successful drafts under their belt, the Detroit Lions may find themselves with Goff under center for longer than I initially anticipated.
General manager Brad Holmes saw a generational offensive tackle Penei Sewell fall into his lap in year one. Things started off slow for Sewell last summer, mostly due to the fact he took a year off before entering the NFL Draft due to Covid-19. Sewell also was asked to play primarily at right tackle rather than the left side, so there was also a bit of a learning curve that needed to take place. Once Sewell found his sea legs, he was off and running. Literally. The big man earned a stellar 84.5-grade courtesy of Pro Football Focus (PFF) for his run-blocking abilities last season and an overall mark of 77.0. Expect to see Sewell build on that performance in his second season.
In the fourth round, Holmes also plucked a budding star in Amon-Ra St. Brown out of USC. As a rookie, St. Brown made 90 receptions totaling 912 yards and five receiving touchdowns. He also added one rushing touchdown on seven carries totaling 61 yards.
Another player I loved and wrote about many times leading up to the 2021 NFL Draft was Alim McNeill. McNeill made six starts as a rookie completing two sacks and totaling 39 tackles. I expect big things from the defensive tackle in year two.
Holmes and company followed that up by securing Aidan Hutchinson out of Michigan to fill a glaring need on the defensive side of the football. Plus, following the selection of Hutchinson, Holmes boldly elected to trade up in the first round securing an offensive weapon in Jameson Williams yet filling another gaping hole in Detroit's depth chart. Hutchinson is coming off a career year with Michigan, having set a new school record for most sacks in a single season with 14, to go with his 16.5 tackles for loss.
The Lions have desperately needed someone who can get after the quarterback, and I feel they found that player in Hutchinson. Williams will provide the Lions with some blazing speed at the receiver position. He's coming off a stellar campaign where he totaled 1,572 receiving years and 15 touchdowns for the Crimson Tide in 2021. Williams doesn't just have straight-line speed; he can beat any defender to the post or take a bubble screen to the house on any given play.
Why Jared Goff will be more than just a stopgap quarterback for the Detroit Lions.
Suddenly, a weak position group from last season becomes very commendable. In addition to St. Brown, Williams, and Reynolds, the Detroit Lions added DJ Chark in free agency. Upgrading this group will also allow tight-end T.J. Hockenson more room to run the intermediate patterns in the middle of the field. All of this blended together with what is expected to be a top-five offensive line and stout run game should keep the Lions in just about every game next season. Winning seven or eight games won't be out of the question. That may not 'wow' you, but it's significant progress from the three victories a year ago.
Shortly after Campbell relieved offensive coordinator, Anthony Lynn of his play-calling duties, Detroit's offense started to take off. Much of the credit goes to newly appointed offensive coordinator Ben Johnson who accepted more of a hands-on role in assisting Campbell with the team's offensive game plan on a week-to-week basis.
Now in 2022, with Johnson at the forefront of Detroit's offense right from the get-go, we might see more of the team we witnessed to close out 2021 rather than the group we saw early on in '21. That means the Detroit Lions will likely play themselves out of the top five heading into the 2023 NFL Draft, meaning they will miss out on the top quarterbacks in the draft class.
You may say, well, Holmes will need to package the remainder of Detroit's draft capital they received from the Los Angeles Rams in the Matthew Stafford deal to move up and select Bryce Young or C.J. Stroud.
If it were only that easy.
The season hasn't even begun, but look at the teams that are expected to be the poorest in 2022. The New York Jets, Jacksonville Jaguars, Seattle Seahawks, Atlanta Falcons, Chicago Bears, Houston Texans, and the Detroit Lions. Aside from the Jaguars, what is missing on each of these teams? Right, a franchise quarterback. We know the Jaguars won't be interested in drafting a quarterback. Maybe Zach Wilson and Justin Fields each take a massive step forward in '22, removing them from the equation.
That still leaves three teams that, in all likelihood, finish below the Detroit Lions in the overall standings, all looking to add a quarterback. Those teams won't be willing to trade out of their draft position. That may leave Goff in Detroit longer than most of us anticipated; if exceeds expectations this season, it will be good for the organization. If Goff is terrible in 2022, the Detroit Lions will likely be in a position to snag one of the top signal-callers, but I wouldn't hold my breath. I expect Goff to be 'ok.'
With Jared Goff under contract for two more seasons beyond 2022, the Detroit Lions may find themselves building a roster full of young talent around a veteran game-manager. If Goff can take a step forward utilizing the offensive weapons that have been added over the past two seasons proving he can be a middle-of-the-road quarterback, the franchise can still be successful with the right pieces in place.