The Detroit Lions have finished off the 2021-22 season, and it’s time for one final look back before thoughts begin to transition to the offseason full-time.
While a 3-13-1 record might not be that great of a finish in the grand scheme of things, it was actually an accomplishment for the Lions relative to how the season started. With that in mind, the team managed to improve and stay together even in spite of a miserable year on the field.
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As a result, the final grades for the team’s position groups aren’t nearly as bad as some folks might assume. There is some work to be done building the Lions for the future, but there isn’t a spot on the roster that lacks a positive as it relates to that.
The team’s final marks reflect that growth.
Grading Lions’ Quarterbacks for 2021
Considering all the changes that were made for the Lions offensively and at quarterback, it’s hard to give this group a grade and not have it be on somewhat of a curve. Jared Goff started off the season trying to adjust and lacked weaponry at wideout, running back and along the offensive line at times thanks to injury. Tim Boyle was hurt and played better by the time he was forced into action late, but he doesn’t look like a long-term solution.
Goff redeemed the group with a solid finish to the year being he threw for 1,136 yards and 11 touchdowns to just 2 interceptions in the final five games he played, but none of this should preclude the Lions from prioritizing the spot in the draft.
Grading Lions’ Offensive Line for 2021
Figured to be a strength in 2021 from the start of the season until the end, adversity hit the Detroit line from before the year began with the loss of Taylor Decker. An injury to Frank Ragnow hurt matters further, and being down two top players would have paralyzed a lesser line. Detroit’s group managed to rally, though, boosted by the solid play of rookie Penei Sewell. Jonah Jackson continues to look like a force, and Halapoulivaati Vaitai had a bounce-back season. The Lions were also boosted by surprise performances from Evan Brown at center, Matt Nelson at tackle and Tommy Kraemer at guard. For once, this group is looking like a strength for the team long-term. As a result, they deserve the highest grade on the team.
Grading Lions’ Running Backs for 2021
Injury intervened to make the Detroit running back room less powerful than what it was once figured to be, but the Lions kept chugging along though they were forced to miss D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams for stretches. Names like Craig Reynolds, Jermar Jefferson and Godwin Igwebuike intervened to help keep the Lions solid on the ground. Swift flashed potential nearly once a game this season when he played, proving why 2022 could be his year.
As a whole, the Lions backfield wasn’t bad at all, and showed signs of being able to dominate in games. That was a welcome change from the more bleak past.
Grading Lions’ Wide Receivers for 2021
The emergence of Amon-Ra St. Brown saves this group from failure for the Lions in 2021. Being completely blunt, things were off to a bad start for the team from the get-go minus the performance of Quintez Cephus prior to injury. Reality says the Lions didn’t have nearly the amount of weaponry needed to have success. Whether names like KhaDarel Hodge or Trinity Benson remain fixtures this offseason remains to be seen, and will be determined by how aggressive the Lions are at adding a wideout either in free agency or the draft. Josh Reynolds emerged to help in saving the Detroit offense midseason as well with plays such as this:
St. Brown can’t go it alone in the future, which means the Lions need help in multiple ways for 2022 and beyond. A below-average season proved this in a big way. Reynolds should return, but the Lions should cast an aggressive eye toward the market for help.
Grading Lions’ Tight Ends for 2021
T.J. Hockenson remains a star in the making, but injury problems continue to come up for the young pass catcher as they did again in 2021. The Lions didn’t develop much behind Hockenson start to finish, and the second position was a weakness until little-known undrafted free agent and blocker Brock Wright came along late and made a case for 2022 and beyond with some nice catches.
The Lions need to add a player or two to this group in the offseason, especially given Hockenson’s shaky injury history. Some insurance is needed even if the main pair could become a formidable duo. As a result, it’s an average finish for this group.
Grading Lions’ Defensive Line for 2021
The Lions had a season lost due to injury up front in 2021, having lost Romeo Okwara and Trey Flowers due to injury. Both flashed at linebacker, but played an integral role in the Lions getting after the pocket and playing tough in the trenches. In spite of this, there were some positives, with names like Alim McNeill and Levi Onwuzurike getting playing time and developing. Charles Harris played a starring role for the Lions as well, but he is a free agent this offseason. As a whole, the Lions did better on defense than in recent years against the run and with regards to getting pocket pressure, but major improvements are needed in 2022.
Grading Lions’ Linebackers for 2021
If there’s one spot on the roster that needs a major reboot for 2022 thanks to how things went last season, it’s linebacker. Rookie Derrick Barnes experienced some growing pains, but got playing time. Alex Anzalone didn’t play poorly, but cannot be counted on as the group’s best player into the future. Major changes occurred with the shift of veteran players from the defensive front to the linebacker room, and the development of Julian Okwara was a big deal for this group by the end of the year. Watching Jalen Reeves-Maybin grow when given a chance was also special. Still, it’s tough not to see how the Lions need big help at the position this offseason given how they played in 2021.
Grading Lions’ Secondary for 2021
Detroit’s secondary struggled at times, but was one of the groups to improve as the season pressed on in a big way. After losing Jeff Okudah in the first game of the year and losing other key players such as Jerry Jacobs and Amani Oruwariye, the Lions still improved significantly most of the year. Oruwariye was a weapon intercepting the ball, and has become a player to watch for the team moving forward given how good he has been.
Outside of that, Aubrey Pleasant and Aaron Glenn are developing future studs such as Jacobs, AJ Parker, Ifeatu Melifonwu, Will Harris and others. There is serious hope for this group heading into 2022, and the Lions should have one of the more improved groups in the NFL as they continue to develop.
Grading Lions’ Special Teams for 2021
Jack Fox remains one of the best punters in the NFL, and has also proven to be a fake punt weapon given his arm strength. Detroit’s return unit wasn’t elite, but seemed to find something with Igwebuike running the ball back on kickoffs. Coverage was solid as well, with few major breakdowns. If there was a problem, it was at kicker. The Lions took until after midseason to solidify things with Riley Patterson, but it looks as if they have found something with the youngster that was buried on other practice squads until Detroit snapped him up.
With Patterson, Fox and Igwebuike, the Lions could have the makings of a solid group for next season on special teams already. This group is usually solid, and 2021 was no exception even in spite of the major challenge of replacing a kicker and long-snapper Don Muhlbach.
Grading Lions’ Coaching Staff for 2021
Given his boisterous nature, Dan Campbell was an unconventional coach at first for some, but seemed to grow into the role as the season wore on. He proved himself as a gambler on fourth down, something which cost the Lions a few times but helped them win other games. His staff was solid at teaching, with names like Aaron Glenn, Aubrey Plesant, Ben Johnson, Antwaan Randle El, Todd Wash and Duce Staley standing out for the play of their groups. Campbell also showed how much he cared about his team and the city during a rare show of emotion for a coach early in the year:
Campbell endeared himself to Lions fans after this moment and others, and also earned solid marks for becoming the team’s de-facto offensive coordinator. It was a slow start, but a solid finish for Campbell and the staff which should provide a springboard for bigger and better things in 2022.