When the Detroit Lions headed into the 2022 NFL draft, they knew that a defense that ranked an ugly 29th in the league in 2021 would need a major boost.
As a result, it wasn’t a shock to see the team hit the spot hard in the NFL draft, and the team’s work paid off in a big way according to a new analysis from Pro Football Focus after the draft wrapped up.
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In a piece at the site, writer Ben Linsey recapped some of the most improved and least improved units across the league in the draft. Unsurprisingly, Detroit’s defensive line checked in as a most improved choice for the site.
As Linsey explained, adding Aidan Hutchinson and Josh Paschal gives Detroit’s front a chance to be seriously dynamic, and even could offer the team an “intriguing rotation” for the 2022 season up front.
“The Lions now have an intriguing edge rotation, with Hutchinson and Paschal joining the Okwara brothers and Charles Harris, who is fresh off a two-year, $13 million extension,” he wrote in the piece.
Not only will the Lions be intriguing, but they will have a chance to have the arrow pointing up on the defensive front. The team’s offensive line is already seen as one of the best in the league, and by building up the defensive front, it shows the team is serious about starting to wreak some meaningful havoc on defense.
The Lions had only 30 total sacks in 2021, but with their strong additions, that number could be trending firmly upward in the future. To that end, it’s easy to see the line as a spot that improved the most in this last draft across the whole league.
Lions Defense Sees Big Boost to Depth With 2022 Class
From the first-round of the draft down to the seventh, the Lions hammered the defense early and often. In fact, during the whole weekend, the Lions only spent two picks on offense and dedicated the rest to the defensive side of the ball, pointing to how serious they were about improvements there. Aidan Hutchinson and Josh Paschal will add punch to Detroit’s front, while safety Kerby Joseph fills an immediate need on the back end and could push for a fast role given his athleticism. At linebacker, Malcolm Rodriguez plays with the toughness and the edge that fans will love, and James Houston brings pass rush skill with 16.5 sacks with Jackson State in 2021 as an underrated talent. Cornerback Chase Lucas has a fight to make the roster at a deep position, but is a gritty competitor with some obvious ball skills the Lions will like.
Add it up and the Lions have more depth and competition everywhere on defense. To that end, the team did well to prioritize one of their classic weaknesses on the field within this latest draft.
Outlook for Detroit’s 2022 Defense
It’s always going to be tough for NFL teams to stay ahead of the curve on defense. The league has turned into a showcase for offenses, and coordinators are constantly coming up with new ways to scheme players open. Quarterbacks are better than ever, and wideouts are constantly getting faster and stronger. While the running back position has been diminished in importance a bit over the last few decades, those players still can cause problems out of the backfield and offensive lines have not gotten any more tiny on the field, either.
With all of this in mind, the Lions had to pick up more players to improve on the defensive side. Quite possibly, the best free agency pickup came in the form of re-signing pass rusher Charles Harris to a new deal after 7.5 sacks in 2021. After that, the Lions made shrewd moves to bring in cornerback Mike Hughes who has 3 career interceptions and 7 forced fumbles as well as DeShon Elliott, who’s started on an elite Baltimore defense in the past and could lock down a similar role in Detroit.
Given these improvements plus the additions from the 2022 class and bigger steps from players like Alim McNeill, Levi Onwuzurike and Julian Okwara, Detroit’s defense could be much better in 2022. They will have to keep grinding and developing to stay ahead of the curve, but at the very least, they’ve been given a much better chance to improve upon some of their uglier metrics from the last few seasons.