Multiple Veteran Lions Facing Heat Following Detroit’s 2022 Draft

Quintez Cephus

Getty Quintez Cephus makes a catch in a 2021 game against Minnesota.

The Detroit Lions checked off need after need in the 2022 NFL draft, and suddenly, a roster which looked barren in some key spots has managed to build up some impressive depth.

As a result of that depth, there will be several players who will be tested and pushed in a big way to show their stuff this year. This will ensure the age-old football axiom of “iron sharpening iron” when camp gets started and some position battles can finally begin to play out.

The latest Lions news straight to your inbox! Join the Heavy on Lions newsletter here!

Join Heavy on Lions!

So what players should be feeling the most heat when all is said and done? There are quite a few Lions who will be challenged in a big way thanks to some new players who are coming onto the roster.

Tight End T.J. Hockenson

The Lions didn’t select a top name tight end within the first four rounds of the draft, but they did end up nabbing James Mitchell in the fifth-round. Mitchell, coming off an ACL injury, had tumbled down the board and gives the Lions some extra depth at a key spot. He is sneaky athletic and a good pass catcher as well as blocker. Make no mistake, T.J. Hockenson is still the team’s top target, and after Detroit picked up his fifth-year option, he is going nowhere. Whether the Lions choose to pay top dollar for Hockenson could depend on what they get instantly out of Mitchell, Brock Wright and others. If Mitchell comes on, it’s possible the Lions could let Hockenson walk, especially if health issues come up again in 2022. In parts of his first few seasons in the league, that issue has dogged Hockenson. To that end, this coming season is vital for him.

Wide Receiver Quintez Cephus

After a solid 204 yard, 2 touchdown start to 2021, the Lions looked to have a building block in Quintez Cephus. Unfortunately for him, injury struck and the team moved on. In his absence, names like Kalif Raymond, Josh Reynolds and Amon-Ra St. Brown stepped up. This offseason, DJ Chark and Jameson Williams were added to the mix from outside the team. That only puts extra pressure on Cephus coming back and being the guy Jared Goff looked like he was forming chemistry with immediately. With newfound depth at the spot, the Lions might not hesitate to move on from Cephus in the future if he cannot rejuvenate his career fast and stay solid. Suddenly, wideout isn’t the weakness it was for the team last year. That means it’s time for Cephus to start making even more moves.

Defensive Lineman John Penisini

Detroit’s defensive line is in a very different state than when John Penisini first came into the mix in 2020 as a rookie. As a sixth-round pick that year, Penisini played and played well putting up 35 tackles, 1 sack and 1 fumble recovery in 12 starts, but those numbers dwindled considerably in 2021 to just 14 total tackles with no starts. With Alim McNeill, Levi Onwuzurike and Josh Paschal pushing for snaps as youngsters, Penisini will be challenged to be his best, and that isn’t a bad thing. He can still be a depth piece for a young Lions front on the come up, but it isn’t going to be easy for him to see the field as quickly as he has in the past unless he brings it constantly.

Safety Will Harris

Most of the time last season, the Lions didn’t have anyone better to put next to Tracy Walker than Will Harris. With the addition of DeShon Elliot in free agency as well as young Kerby Joseph in the third-round, that’s going to change. The Lions experimented with Harris at cornerback late in 2021, so it will be interesting to see if that’s a permanent move for the team. Harris has been inconsistent at best after being a third-round pick himself, so seeing him be outplayed by another young player at the spot would not be a shock at all. Harris will have to earn his keep at safety, or could be forced to play a new role.

Defensive End/Linebacker Austin Bryant

When Austin Bryant was drafted in the 2019 class, the Lions had no pass rushers on the roster who were consistent. The last few years, that persisted as Bryant dealt with his own unfortunate injury cases and couldn’t find the field. Now, with names like Romeo Okwara, Julian Okwara, Charles Harris and Aidan Hutchinson in the mix, that’s changed a lot. Suddenly, there is youth and playmaking up front, which means Bryant is in a key spot. In 2021, he finally showed what he could be with 4.5 sacks, 31 tackles and 6 quarterback hits. Will that persist, or will he be outpaced by newcomers and players coming back off health issues? The pressure is on Bryant to continue to evolve. Make no mistake, he still can. At this point, though, nothing is going to be guaranteed to him up front.

READ NEXT: Grading Lions’ 2022 Draft Class: Why Detroit Earns High Marks

Read More
Comment Here
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x