The Detroit Lions have a team full of players looking to play up to their potential and accelerate their growth in 2022, which means plenty of folks are facing the heat to get things going.
Life in the NFL is full of pressure, but it’s easy to see who might be under the most at this point when it comes to the Lions and their young roster. 2022 is going to be a big season for the Lions in terms of taking the next step forward, and they will want to see multiple players start to take those steps with them.
The latest Lions news straight to your inbox! Join the Heavy on Lions newsletter here!
Which Lions will be under the most heat to start this coming season? Here’s a look at some of the names that will have to get things off to a rocking start and sustain over the course of the season in order to feel good about their roster standing.
Jared Goff, Quarterback
It almost goes without saying that the pressure is squarely on Jared Goff this season in Detroit, but it’s a point that is worth underscoring many times over because of its importance. The Lions have doubled-down on Goff this year for 2022, electing not to sign any free agents outside of Tim Boyle and David Blough. Detroit also ignored the rookie market in the draft, meaning it’s Goff’s show once more. The Lions will want to see him reward their faith with an elite year, but if Goff doesn’t deliver, it will get much easier for the team to move on in the future. Pressure is on nearly every quarterback in the league to deliver year in and year out, but it feels like Goff could be in his own separate category. With a good enough season, he might make the case that he’s the guy and the team need only draft and develop a backup. Should he struggle or look inconsistent, though, the Lions would likely be thrust into the market for a top 2023 quarterback, either via the draft or NFL free agency. It’s all in Goff’s hands now, though. This will be a pressure-packed season for the veteran.
T.J. Hockenson, Tight End
It feels as if T.J. Hockenson is safely a part of the future for the Lions, and yet, the team likely still wants to see more from the former Pro Bowler in 2022. Hockenson has seen injuries dog two out of his first three seasons in the league. That isn’t the recipe for long-term sustained success, so the pressure is on Hockenson to not only stay healthy, but perform in a big way this coming season. With an elite season, he can make the case to stick long-term. With more trouble, though, the Lions might have a big decision to make in the near future with regards to a contract extension and how long to keep Hockenson around. Bet on him sticking, but the pressure is turned up more than any other year previously for the offensive weapon.
D’Andre Swift, Running Back
Much like Hockenson, D’Andre Swift has flashed greatness at times. He’s also shown some inconsistency, and has struggled with health himself. In 2022, none of those things can happen, as Swift is being called upon to be a lead dog in the backfield for Detroit. Is this the year Swift looks like a true dominant force and perhaps the league’s next Alvin Kamara in terms of rushing and receiving ability? The Lions badly need that to be the case to give their offense some additional teeth out of the backfield. Swift has to stay healthy and put up touchdowns, meaning the pressure is on him to prove he can be durable and effective as a long-term answer for the team.
Romeo Okwara, Linebacker/Edge
It may seem strange to place Romeo Okwara on this list, but he is coming off a lost season as well as a contract extension in the 2021 offeseason. There’s no reason the Lions can’t continue to love that deal in the future, but the injury status must give the team a small bit of pause. Detroit has also not stopped adding to the defensive line, meaning names like Aidan Hutchinson, Josh Paschal, Levi Onwuzurike, Charles Harris, Austin Bryant and even Julian Okwara will continue to push the veteran players. Okwara needs to show right away what the Lions missed from him in 2022, because if he starts to get hidden in the shuffle, that would be bad news for the team. Iron is going to sharpen iron on the team’s defensive front, and Okwara will feel pressure to step up and play his normal elite role immediately.
Jeff Okudah, Cornerback
Much like the defensive line, the Lions haven’t stopped adding to their backfield, either at cornerback, nabbing Mike Hughes in free agency, drafting Chase Lucas while also expecting names like AJ Parker and Jerry Jacobs to develop greatly. That sets up a situation where the roster isn’t going to wait for a player like Okudah to show what he is capable of. Okudah has been injury prone to start his career, so he needs to shake that off and show he can be a lock-down corner as was expected when he came into the league as the third-overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft. If Okudah can’t stay healthy or play well, the team may well pull the rip cord sooner rather than later on him given the depth they are creating. It’s nearly time for Okudah to put up or shut up, making 2022 perhaps the most vital year for his development.