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A Pack of Lions “MotorCity” can Rev its Engines Behind

(Image Credit: Raj Mehta/ USA TODAY Sports)

Written By: Adam Slivon

Another year, another long season of Detroit Lions football. That has been the common sentiment for fans as from their 1957 championship, they have only won a single playoff game and have yet to appear in the Super Bowl. The 2021 NFL season will not end that streak, as they just finished their season 3-13-1. Although that record is bleak, and while they have been competing for the top pick more often than the Lombardi trophy, there are brighter days ahead for Lions fans to look forward to. In the past nine weeks, that record improves to 3-5-1, and there have been moments, such as Amon-Ra St. Brown’s game-winning touchdown reception over the Minnesota Vikings in week 13, that have been silver linings. Although much is still to be done to improve this team on both sides of the ball, they have started to build a culture behind first-year Head Coach Dan Campbell, whose passion for the game of football and his guys in the locker room is second to none.

Looking ahead to the future of the Detroit Lions, combing over their present-day roster I compiled a list of promising building blocks as well as potential wildcards in their roster construction. Below is a detailed report on how each player fits into the Lions’ plans as they attempt to “assemble” a winner.

The stats below are as of their 37-30 win over the Green Bay Packers in Week 18.


WR Amon-Ra St.Brown


17 G: 90 Receptions, 912 Yards, 6 Total TD

PFF Score/Ranking: 79.9

17th of 133 among WR’s Ranked

Any mention of a building block begins with the play of Amon-Ra St.Brown. In fact, based just on how the past month and a half has gone, St. Brown may go down as one of the biggest steals in the 2021 NFL Draft. St. Brown fell to the fourth round in a loaded WR class, but his production this season rivals or betters that of his five first-round receiver peers. In terms of player rankings provided by Pro Football Focus that measure play-by-play value, he has been climbing in recent weeks and just tied DeAndre Hopkins while passing Jaylen Waddle, his rookie counterpart who set the rookie receptions record!

Recently, St. Brown was named the offensive rookie of the month for December. Throughout December, he managed to rack up the second-most receptions by ANYONE in the NFL, only behind the record-setting Cooper Kupp. In terms of yards, he ranked fourth behind Kupp, Tee Higgins, and Justin Jefferson.

In that month-long stretch between weeks 13-16, St. Brown was targeted an average of 11.5 times while averaging 8.75 receptions and 85 yards a game, with three of his touchdowns also being hauled in during that span.

After another impressive showing against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 17 with 8 receptions for 111 yards and two touchdowns (1 receiving, 1 rushing), he became the first rookie in NFL history with at least 8 catches in 5 straight games. How many rookie receivers do you see that are also shifty on the ground? Here is a clip of his rushing touchdown on a designed draw. It is evident that as his rookie campaign has progressed, he has become a versatile weapon for the Lions offense as their other playmakers have battled injury. Instead of hitting a rookie wall, his recent stretch of play has earned him nothing but praise from his coaches and teammates, such as Campbell, Jared Goff, and fellow receiver Josh Reynolds. Of the praise given, the loftiest was from his position coach, Antwaan Randle El, a former wideout himself. Commenting on St. Brown’s ability, Randel El brought up a notable comparison:

“I tell people all the time, he reminds me a lot of Hines Ward…in terms of his blocking style and catching style and, like, his attitude toward the game. Like it doesn’t matter who you are, he’s going to try to go after you.”

Although St. Brown still has a ways to go, the comparison from Randle El mentioning Ward is extremely accurate if St. Brown lives to his potential. St.Brown, like Ward, has the ideal slot receiver profile standing 6-0, being an excellent blocker, and as the past games have shown, having sure hands. St.Brown does not have the 1000 career receptions or 4 Pro Bowls like Ward just yet, but it is possible if he continues to improve his game and let his draft day status motivate him. In a recent interview done on December 30th from, St. Brown stated:

“My goal moving forward is to be as consistent as I can each week. No matter who we’re playing being that same guy… Those 16 receivers that went before me, that’s something I’ll never forget. It was a feeling I’ll never forget so those two things keep me motivated.”

It’s fitting he was drafted as a Lion as it is evident he is hungry and fits the mold of player Campbell wants on his team. While St. Brown’s season started off slow, he has emerged towards the end of the season as the key piece of the Lions receiving core next season and in the ones that follow.

TE TJ Hockenson


12 G: 61 Receptions, 583 Yards, 4 TD

PFF Score/Ranking: 68.1

22nd of 75 among TE’s Ranked

If Amon-Ra St.Brown is the potential 1A in the Lions aerial attack, Hockenson is a solid 1B for Goff or a future QB to rely on. Hockenson fits the mold of a modern tight end, as what he lacks in terms of run-blocking he makes up for by being an elite receiving option. In terms of PFF’s TE Position Grades, he ranks 11th this season in terms of receiving. Although his season ended after 12 games due to a hand injury, Hockenson still put up great numbers compared to other tight ends. He not only led the Lions in Receptions (61), Receiving Yards (583), and touchdowns (4) before succumbing to injury, but among NFL tight ends through Week 13, he ranked fourth in targets (84), third in receptions, and eighth in yards.

Since entering the league, Hockenson has gained various accolades, shining bright as one of the few notable Lions on an ever-rebuilding roster. Drafted 8th in the 2019 NFL Draft, Hockenson needed to put up elite production to justify his high selection. Since that time, he made the Pro Bowl in 2020 and was named a first alternate this season. Before this season started, he even placed 93rd on NFL’s Top 100 Countdown. Lions tight ends coach Ben Johnson sees, even more, to come from Hockenson in the future. In May, Johnson commented on his ceiling, saying that "We're looking forward to getting even more from him…The sky's the limit for this kid. I really look forward to seeing him take that next step." Head Coach Dan Campbell shared similar praise, adding after seeing him in OTA’s that “His work ethic is off the charts but his explosion, his route savvy, his ability to get open, read coverage, it’s been really good and impressive.”

While the next step remains to be continued, 2022 could be the year he finally emerges among the league’s best at the position with Travis Kelce, Darren Waller, and one of T.J.’s best friends, George Kittle.

There is much more to the Hockenson-Kittle relationship going back to their time together at Iowa, but The Athletic’s Chris Burke does a masterful job putting together their relationship in this article. (Hockenson and Kittle also light up the “grill” as well as the field).

Jokes aside, Hockenson has a bright future with many Pro-Bowl caliber seasons ahead of him, as he is only 24! He has proven through his short time in Detroit that he is a worthy player to build around. Based on what we have seen so far from him, it is not a stretch to say that he can become a top-five tight end within a couple of years and become the primary check-down and red zone option for the passing game.

RB D’Andre Swift


13 G: 151 Carries, 617 Yards, 4.1 YPC, 5 TD 62 Receptions, 452 Yards, 2 TD

PFF Score/Ranking: 58.3

58th of 61 among RB’s Ranked

Unlike St. Brown and Hockenson, Swift does most of his damage through the ground game. His damage this seen has been limited from a shoulder injury costing him time and the Lions missing their Pro-Bowl Center for most of the season (more on that below). With this in mind, there is much to like about what Swift brings to the offense as a running and receiving option out of the backfield. Besides his rushing totals, Swift has added 58 receptions for 436 yards and two touchdowns. This added production through the air puts Swift at over 1,000 yards from scrimmage in 13 games, many of which he had a limited workload. In fact, he only had one game this season with more than 15 carries (33 in Week 10). Between sharing carries with Jamaal Williams to the Lions playing from behind in a lot of games, Swift still found ways to remain involved as a check-down target for quarterback Jared Goff. His overall output to the offense put him in elite company in Lions history. In October, after playing his 20th career game, Swift joined RBs Barry Sanders and Billy Sims as the only players in team history to post at least 1,500 scrimmage yards & 15 TDs through 20 games. Following that feat in Weeks 10-11 this season, Swift put up games of 130 and 136 rushing yards.

It is evident he has always had the all-around talent for the position, whether being the Lions “Swift” army knife or even during his college days playing amongst his elite peers. Going back to his time as a Georgia Bulldog, Swift played behind Nick Chubb AND Sony Michel. It didn’t matter, as he still ran for 681 yards on 7.6 YPC as a freshman! He led the Bulldogs reception tally for running backs every year in college. This established Swift as someone who could provide a team with above-average production as a runner and receiver, as many scouting reports suggested.

This is what he has become for the Lions, but it will be interesting to see his role going forward. He might end up featuring better in the Lions scheme with another solid running back, such as what Jamaal Williams provides as an in-between the tackles type of back. Protecting Swift health-wise will be the key determinate to his long-term ceiling, as he played 13 games his rookie season and 13 of 17 games this season. Based on his player profile, he is electric and can fill various roles, similar to what Alvin Kamara provides the Saints. Next year, the hope is that he can accumulate a steadier share of carries while remaining healthy. With the Lions at full strength next year, Swift/Williams paired together with St.Brown/Hockenson can make for a successful offense, and that is without knowing any further draft picks or signings they might add to this group. With that in mind, it is also important to look at the collection of talent they have up front that allows for these playmakers to have their time to shine.

OL Penei Sewell and Frank Ragnow


PFF Ranking: 77.4

25th among 85 Tackles Ranked


PFF Ranking: 86.2

2nd among 38 Centers Ranked (Ignoring snap minimum)

Shoutout to the O-Line! They deserve credit too, especially Penei Sewell and Frank Ragnow (a substantial improvement from Jonah Jackson deserves mention too).

It is Sewell and Ragnow that the Lions have thus far built their line around and both are long-term building blocks with high ceilings. They are young, Sewell 21 and Ragnow 25, but even more, they have already proven themselves in their short careers.

Starting with Sewell, he was the seventh overall pick in the 2021 draft. He began the season struggling, allowing four sacks between Weeks 4 and 5. After that stretch; however, he has turned it around drastically. He had a five-game stretch after which he did not allow a single sack! His versatility switching between left and right tackle has been greatly needed for the Lions this season as their other tackle, Taylor Decker has battled injury. His play has definitely improved throughout the season, and rookie struggles withstanding, Sewell ranks 10th in run-blocking among tackles, according to PFF. Tackle is a position teams value at a great cost during free agency, making the decision to draft Sewell look even shrewder. Any team can draft weapons for a quarterback, but having linemen to create time for opportunities to open up is key to building a sustainable winner.

Pairing with Sewell is Frank Ragnow, one of the top centers in football. Although he only played in four games this season before landing on injured reserve, he ranked second in the league among centers. This elite play was not just a brief stretch but dates back a few seasons. In 2019, Ragnow began his first full season as the Lions center. All he did was grade as the second-best run-blocking center in the NFL. The following season he was the second-best center overall. In May of this year, the Lions rewarded him with a well-deserved extension, paying him a record $13.25 million/year.

Following this extension, GM Brad Holmes stated that: “[It’s] extremely important in terms of we already view him as a long-term piece…Frank is a guy that plays the game the right way. He’s everything that we look for and what we want as a Lion.”

This glowing praise of Ragnow solidifies the Lions as having one of the best core linemen groups in the NFL. Between Sewell and Ragnow, they easily have two quality linemen for the next decade. With Ragnow, the Lions do not have to worry about finding the lineman quarterbacks turn to when reading defenses. Centers are crucial as they often share the closest relationship with their quarterback. When this thought came to mind, I first think of Jeff Saturday, who spent his career handing the ball to Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers at the line of scrimmage. If you’d like a read of the center-quarterback bond, this is a great place to start. If/when the Lions find their guy to sling the pigskin, they have the perfect center to build around.


Amani Oruwariye


14 G: 57 Combined Tackles, 6 INT, 11 Pass Deflections

PFF Score/Ranking: 59

85th among 120 CB’s Ranked

When someone looks at statistics, they are often enamored with gaudy numbers from the quarterback or running back. Thousands of yards, dozens of touchdowns, percentages, yards gained, the list can go on.

Well, how about the defense and the numbers they put up? Look no further than Amani Oruwariye and his production at cornerback this season. There have not been a ton of bright spots for the Lions defense this year, but Oruwariye is the main exception. Before landing on injured reserve with a broken thumb, Oruwariye ranked third in the NFL with six interceptions. Among the quarterbacks he picked off, he did so from the likes of Lamar Jackson, Baker Mayfield, Joe Burrow, Kyler Murray, Andy Dalton, and Justin Fields, all established starters or with a high draft pedigree.

Oruwariye, who stands at 6-foot-2, weighs 205 pounds, and blazes stopwatches with a 4.4 40, has the ideal size and speed teams drool over when looking for a prototypical cornerback. Someone who is tall enough to challenge and contest while being fast enough to not get blown by in coverage, ala Richard Sherman-esque. Oruwariye already has displayed the ability to be a ballhawk, but as the table suggests, he has a ways to go being a shutdown corner. This year, he allowed 41 catches on 69 targets for 582 yards, and while the interceptions made up for the passer rating allowed, it is evident he needs to gain more consistency keeping up with receivers and limiting the number of completions when opposing teams throw his way.

A fifth-round pick in the 2019 Draft, Oruwariye has made the most of gaining playing time this season for the Lions. He came into the season projected as the number 3 or 4 cornerback on the roster, but an injury to Jeff Okudah opened the door for him to showcase his ability. Although he was a Pro-Bowl snub and will not make the trek to Las Vegas this go-round, he has the potential to in the seasons ahead. Oruwariye is one of the key variables for their defense as they look to develop more players on that side of the ball. While their offense features plenty of rising talent, they may look to the upcoming draft to supplement their defense with more upside as Oruwariye, along with Charles Harris, have been pretty much the only defensive players displaying prolonged stretches of promise during their trying campaign.

To wrap up my report on Oruwariye, there were plenty of articles detailing his play and emergence. I also discovered a more light-hearted conversation he had on the “Ask a Detroit Lion” segment on, where he opened up about his off-field hobbies, such as being an active Call of Duty player who “plays with the boys”. I found it an entertaining read about someone many may not know about outside of Detroit.

Charles Harris


17 G: 65 Combined Tackles, 16 QB Hits, 10 Tackles for Loss, 7.5 Sacks

PFF Score/Ranking: 68.7

41st among 112 Edge Defenders Ranked

If the Detroit Lions football needed an analogy for their decades of struggle making their team a contender, consider them a football version of the island of misfit toys. No player on their current team perhaps closely resembles that profile than Charles Harris. Harris, a 2017 first-round pick, has already bounced between the Miami Dolphins and Atlanta Falcons before blooming as a 26-year-old pass rusher for the Lions.

Before 2021, Harris started nine games and dressed for 54 over four seasons between Miami and Atlanta. In those 54 games, Harris totaled 6.5 sacks, 79 tackles, 13 of which were for a loss. This year, he has already passed his career sacks mark and is close to the tackles and tackles for loss tallies. Not shabby for someone the Lions signed for $1.75 million.

According to PFF, Harris has maintained an overall grade of 68.7, which includes a pass-rushing mark that ranks 20th, a couple of spots behind Robert Quinn of the Chicago Bears, who had 18.5 sacks on the year.

Harris has emerged as one of the key rushers for the Lions, although he may not be the only face in the fold next season. With the Lions having a top pick in the upcoming draft, they may select fellow Michigan Wolverines Aidan Hutchinson. The Lions will also have Romeo Okwara fully coming back from injury. With Harris’ emergence, this year as the only real threat to the quarterback calls by Lions fans to extend him are justified. He definitely will see a large bump in pay based on finally living up to his draft-day billing and is the type of underdog success story fans can rally behind. It is also worth mentioning the job first-year Defensive Coordinator Aaron Glenn has done unearthing diamonds in the rough such as Oruwariye and Harris. He has coaxed a lot of their depleted unit this season and it may not be long before Glenn’s work is rewarded with more looks as a future head coach, as he already has received one request to interview this year with the Denver Broncos.


Jared Goff


14 G: 3,245 Yards, 19 TD, 8 INT, 91.5 Rating

PFF Ranking:

31st of 39 QB’s Ranked

So far, I have offered reports on members of the Lions likely to play significant roles on the next competitive team that calls Ford Field home. This is where it gets interesting.

Starting with Jared Goff, do the Lions know what they have in him, or do they?

Let's give Goff a fair shake. Yes, the Rams moved him to upgrade for Matthew Stafford, which looks like a smart move as they head to the playoffs, but Goff did not get dealt a solid hand to begin his Lions tenure. Playing on a Lions team that had injuries to various players throughout the season, Goff often did not have his full supporting cast beside him, between injuries to Swift, Hockenson, and Ragnow. Goff also missed three games himself to injury.

As recently as 2018, he quarterbacked the Rams to a Super Bowl and has made two Pro Bowls in his career. He has the resume of someone who can be a long-term solution IF the pieces around him are solid enough. He has bounced between struggle his rookie season to quality play to somewhere in the middle, which makes his situation tricky for the Lions. After their trade to acquire him, the Lions General Manager gave him a substantial vote of confidence while choosing to restructure his contract and not draft an heir to him instead of Sewell. In March, while introducing Goff fresh off the trade, Holmes stated:

"I know a lot of people talk about the picks, but a lot of it was Jared…it’s like I said earlier, his resume speaks for itself, he’s a proven winner, so for him to compete for the starting quarterback position and winning the starting quarterback position, I definitely expect him to reclaim that status."

The Lions can choose again to build their core in the trenches in the upcoming draft with a weaker class projected and Goff still carrying a larger cap hit. His next season may determine the rest of his Lions tenure. If he plays well and “reclaims”, as Holmes mentioned, the status of being a proven winner, perhaps the Lions roll with him. If he struggles and/or is the sole reason the Lions lose games, perhaps they look towards the 2023 draft to find a successor. Regardless, Goff is the biggest wildcard on the Lions roster, as his performance may determine how the Lions allocate a future top pick or if they go after a bigger name in the trade market.

Jeff Okudah

While mentioning Amani Oruwariye, many hoped for a breakout of a different Lions cornerback this season in Jeff Okudah. The Lions drafted him 3rd overall in the 2020 draft and now are left with questions that their investment in him will pay off. It is too early to determine fully and they do not have a lot of play to go off of, as Okudah ruptured his Achilles in the season opener and had a rookie season filled with more downs than ups.

In his rookie season, Okudah allowed a 118.0 passer rating in nine games. He missed the final four games of that season and had core muscle surgery on both sides prior to the 2021 season before tearing his Achilles. This already extensive list of significant injuries makes 2022 a make-or-break season for him. He has the upside to become a shutdown corner opposite Oruwariye and form a foundation in a secondary also featuring rookies Jerry Jacobs and Ifeatu Melifonwu. If he regains his full ability post surgeries and has grown after a season under a fresh Lions regime, perhaps he surprises and gives the Lions another future building block. If not, he would fail to live up to the draft-day status that placed him as just the fourth cornerback taken top five in the past 18 drafts, with the other three, Denzel Ward, Jalen Ramsey, and Patrick Peterson, being successful players.

To label him a bust already would not be fair, and Okudah has a lot of motivation to fuel his third season. In 2017, within a week of his arrival on campus to play for Ohio State in 2017, his mother passed after a long battle with cancer. Okudah used this as his drive to grow as a player and top draft pick. Now, with the obstacle of injuries stunting his growth, he will look to prove critics wrong as he uses this to write the next chapters of his football career.

Jason Cabinda

Who does not adore the fullback? Especially one like Cabinda, a fun-loving guy who was nominated for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award for his work in the Detroit community. Cabinda originally was undrafted as a linebacker and latched onto the Oakland Raiders in 2018.

In the 2020 offseason, he converted from linebacker to fullback and is the definition of a jack-of-all-trades player that is still growing.

This year, he spent time studying film of “fullback” star Kyle Juszczyk. Cabinda can block, catch, run, and tackle, making him a versatile resource on the Lions offense and special teams. I included him as a wildcard partly from my desire to report on him, but also from his potential as a player to grow even more. He caught his first touchdown this year against the Arizona Cardinals and by midseason started to sit in on meeting with tight ends coach Ben Johnson to learn how to further his skills. Who knows what is next in his career? As has been proven so far, he fits well in any role they ask of him.

To briefly conclude, this is my report and guide to ten key Lions players as they look ahead to the 2022 NFL season. Originally, this was going to be brief, but after exploring the players further, it is great to see the Lions finally having what looks to be a solid coaching staff with some exciting players on their roster with interesting backgrounds. They are definitely one of the teams I will be keeping my eye on next year, and you should too!

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