Lions GM Brad Holmes not surprised about success of rookie class

A look at each rookie’s stats

ALLEN PARK — While veterans were key to the Detroit Lions 9-8 season including the big turnaround after a horrid start, the rookies played a huge role. A glance at the stat sheet is all the proof that is needed.

The 1-6 start was rough on one of the NFL’s youngest teams, but the rookies matured and as they grew they found a certain confidence and won eight of their last ten. 

It’s official the 2022 Lions draft class met and in some cases exceeded expectations.

“I’m not surprised about the success (of the rookie class). You don’t know if Kerby Joseph is going to pick off Aaron Rodgers three times in a season. You don’t know when James Houston gets going that he’s going to have eight sacks in just that small sample size. I can’t say we have that crystal ball, but we do know about who they were as football players,’’ Lions GM Brad Holmes said during his season-ending press conference on Tuesday.

“We knew Kerby Joseph was a ball guy, we knew he was a ball hawk, we knew he had outstanding instincts to get the football. So that’s not a surprise. We knew James Houston had all of the development or attributes and traits and the football character and intangibles to work with the development. Him having production is not a surprise,’’ Holmes added.

Houston may have been a surprise to others because he was a sixth-round pick. So was Malcolm Rodriguez who started 14 games. Joseph was a third-round pick. 

All eyes were on Aidan Hutchinson, the second overall pick, and he didn’t disappoint. 

“Ultimately, any of your draft picks, you just want to see them develop. You want to see them get a little bit better every week. You want to see that a mistake that they made early, they don’t make again, and really, they’ve all done that, and that includes Aidan,’’ coach Dan Campbell said. “And I go back to this, I mean he – he didn’t just walk in the door and all of a sudden, all these great things happen. I mean he goes into Washington, he has three sacks, and then it’s expected that he’ll have three sacks every week from then on, and that’s just not the reality, but the fact is he was disruptive, and he’s a football player, and he did improve.’’

A first-round pick is expected to contribute from Day One and Hutchinson did just that.

“We knew Aidan, we pretty much knew what his skillset was and what  his drive and determination and intangibles were,’’ Holmes said. “I don’t want to say we knew that the statistics would be what they were but we’re not really surprised that (the rookies) had success. That’s why we do all the work that we do.’’

Here’s a look at the 2022 Lions draft class and how they contributed:

— Defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson, second overall pick. In 17 starts, he’s had three  interceptions (he never had one in college), 9.5 sacks to lead all NFL rookies, two fumble recoveries and 52 tackles. His coming out party was in Week 2 when he had 3 sacks in the win over the Commanders.  

WR Jameson Williams, first round (12th overall). He played in first game on Dec. 4 after recovering from ACL surgery last January. His first and only reception was a 41-yard touchdown catch. He also had a 40-yard scamper for a touchdown. With no training camp and limited practice he was at a disadvantage with a lack of experience, but his speed was on full display. Expectations are high for next season.

— Defensive lineman Josh Paschal, second round, (46th overall). In 10 games with four starts, Paschal had a pair of sacks in Week 17 against the Bears and 16 tackles overall. He can be a force and the stats don’t always tell the story.

— Safety Kerby Joseph, third round (97th overall). In 17 games (14 starts) he became Aaron Rodgers’ biggest nightmare. Of his four interceptions three were against Rodgers with 2 in the Lions win at Ford Field and one at Lambeau on Sunday. Joseph was a standout with 2 forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and 82 tackles.

— TE James Mitchell, fifth round (177th overall). In 14 games he was targeted 11 times and caught every one with 1 touchdown. His role has developed after T.J. Hockenson was traded to the Vikings.

LB Malcolm Rodriguez, sixth round (188th overall). He’s a dynamo who got the eyes of coaches and fans from the start of training camp. He was a “Hard Knocks” star.. In 16 games (15 starts), he’s had 87 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble and 1 fumble recovery. Look for the ball and you’ll find Rodrigo.

— Linebacker James Houston, sixth round (217th overall). He opened eyes with  five sacks in his first four games, starting on Thanksgiving. He set an NFL record with seven sacks in his first six games and  finished the season with eight sacks. He’s a force who spent the first three months on the practice squad. He had a pair of sacks and a special teams fumble recovery in his first game on Thanksgiving. 

— Cornerback Chase Lucas, seventh round (237th overall). In six games mostly on special teams, he had three tackles. He was placed on injured reserve on Dec. 10 with a hamstring injury. He missed time earlier in the season with an ankle injury.

Lions keep playoff hopes alive with 41-10 win over Bears; 5 reasons why they won

DETROIT — In a key game to keep the Detroit Lions’ playoff hopes alive, they didn’t just win, 41-10, they dominated the Chicago Bears for three quarters.

Coach Dan Campbell said all week that his team would be ready after the humiliating 37-23 loss at Carolina the previous week.

“We bounced back, I knew we would because of the guys we have on this team. They went to work, they trusted us. We went full pads on Wednesday, saying we’re going to get our identity back, recalibrate and those guys did that,’’ Campbell said after the win. ”They trusted us, they came out and looked like they were ready to go. I was proud of them.’’

The LIons improve to 8-8 and are in the wild-card mix. First they have to beat the Packers (8-8) at Green Bay next weekend. (Game day and time to be announced.) That won’t be enough. They also will need the Rams (5-11) to beat the Seahawks (8-8) at Seattle.

It’s been quite a stretch for the Lions winning seven of nine after a 1-6 start.

“This is big. It just verifies what we are, what we know, what we’re capable of. And here we are,’’ Campbell said.

The tone was set from the Lions team introductions at a sold-out Ford Field, giving the spotlight to the defensive and offensive lines. Usually it’s either offensive or defensive starters who get the introductions

“I wanted to do that because everything coming out of Carolina was about that. And for us, to be our identity to be a physical, tough, hard-nosed, relentless, resilient team, it all starts with the O-line and D-line so I wanted to make sure they got acknowledged for the last one here,’’ Campbell said.

Five reasons the Lions won:

1. It was a bit of a slow start for the Lions’ defense allowing a 75-yard touchdown drive on the Bears’ first possession with quarterback Justin Fields running for 45 yards. The Lions matched that touchdown on their first possession with a 2-yard touchdown pass from Jared Goff to tight end Brock Wright. The Bears took the 10-7 lead with a 23-yard field goal late in the first quarter. They were held scoreless for the rest of the game. “All in all I think we snapped back on defense,’’ Campbell said.

2. Jared Goff is on fire. In the last eight games he’s thrown 14 touchdown passes and zero interceptions. “He has a ton of confidence right now and he’s had this for a while. He’s played pretty well all year, there’s been a couple here and there and the turnovers were early – he’s got a real good feel of the game plan,’’ Campbell said. “You can tell he’s in this mode that you feel like any time you dial up a pass, he’s going to find somebody, he’s going to find a throw and he’s going to get it to the guy who is open that’s a great feeling to feel your quarterback is in that mode. That’s a great feeling. When your O-line protects like it’s protecting, that helps everything. Here’s what we know about Goff you give him just a minute to see it he’ll put it on the spot.’’ Plus, Goff had a big issue with a non-working headset early in the game and had to run to the sideline to get his plays, It was eventually fixed.

3. It’s not like Goff is doing it alone. In the first half he threw to 10 different pass-catchers. Even he seemed surprised when asked about that number. “It’s part of how our offense works. There isn’t really a feature guy and there isn’t really like forcing it to one guy to get him the ball. It’s whoever’s open gets the ball,’’ Goff said. “Ben (Johnson, offensive coordinator) does a good job of keeping us in rhythm and on the same page. … Tight ends again showed up big today.’’ Tight end Brock Wright had a pair of touchdown receptions. Goff completed 21 of 29 passes for 255 yards, three touchdowns and a 133.5 passer rating (158.3 is perfect).

4. Defensively it’s a team effort but three rookie defensive linemen were standouts. James Houston, playing in just his sixth career game, had three sacks and a forced fumble. Aidan Hutchinson had half a sack, an interception, a fumble recovery and a pass defense. Josh Paschal had two sacks, the first of his career. “You know it’s great. We got a lot of talented rookies on the team. It’s a good foundation for us, too,’’ Hutchinson said. “And yeah, man, it’s very exciting being out there and being a part of games like that.”

5. Offensively the run game has been an issue in recent games, but not in the win on Sunday when the Lions finished with 265 rushing yards. Jamaal Williams had his most productive game of the season with 144 yards on 22 carries and a touchdown. D’Andre Swift also had his biggest rushing game this year with 78 yards on 11 carries and a touchdown. He also had four catches for 39 yards and a TD catch.  Williams and Swift became the first two running backs in team history to have eight or more touchdowns in the same season.  “I think that’s our success right there, is just having different weapons and just to have so many weapons on the field. It just makes the defense more cautious about what’s happening and makes it unpredictable about what we’re doing,’’ Williams said. “ I think today Swift went crazy. He just had a tremendous game. Proud of him because of the way he works, and he deserves all the chances he gets. I’m just grateful for the way he came out, played for the team, and to get the juice going, the goods going.”

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

(Next up: Lions (8-8) at Green Bay Packers (8-8). Game will be Saturday or Sunday. The NFL should announce  a decision on time and day by Monday.)

Lions’ road record bodes well for playoff push; Elliott update; quote of the day

ALLEN PARK — With a playoff berth a definite possibility, the Lions will play two of their last three games on the road. On Saturday they’re at Carolina Panthers, then home to the Bears on Jan. 1 and finishing the regular season at Green Bay on Jan. 7 or 8.

After winning three straight away from Ford Field, winning on the road doesn’t seem to be a major factor moving forward. 

The Lions have won at Chicago, at the New York Giants and on Sunday at the New York Jets. The win over the Bears was the first road win since Dan Campbell took over as coach.

So what’s the deal? This team is maturing and gaining confidence across the board. They’re well prepared at home or on the road.

When Campbell was asked about the road success on Monday he had to take a minute to come up with an answer.

“Look I think I go back the hardest thing for the offense is to be able to function with a silent cadence. It’s easy to say if you’re really disciplined on what you do and you get an environment and crowd noise and momentum, that will shift to the home team at some point but if you’re very disciplined you can work your way out of it,’’ Campbell said. “We’ve done a good job of it, we don’t let the momentum go so far the other way that we can’t swing it back in our favor. In some of the most critical moments we’re making the play to finish it out.’’

That is the key to winning six of their last seven.  In those last three road wins the Lions were either tied at the half (Bears, Jets) up had the lead. At the Giants they were up 17-6 at halftime. 

At 7-7, the Lions are 3-3 on the road and 4-4 at Ford Field.

Quote of the day: Campbell was asked about the progression of rookie Aidan Hutchinson. He had plenty to say, ending with this: “He’s got a knack for trying to punch at balls – footballs that is. He does everything. It’s not just one thing it’s the totality of it, he does everything and has gotten that much better,’’ said Campbell without hesitating after the ‘balls’ comment even when the media laughed.

Elliott status uncertain: DaShon Elliott injured his shoulder midway through the third quarter on Sunday and didn’t return.  His shoulder was still tender and he was having testing done on Monday. Campbell said he expected to know more later in the day. If he can’t go on Saturday at the Panthers, it’s likely C.J. Moore or Ifeatu Melifonwu will get the nod.

“C.J. has served in that role. We’ll look at him, we have Iffy as well. It will be the combination of who gives the best opportunity on defense but also on special teams and the team in general. Let’s put our guys in positions that are going to help us the most,’’ Campbell said.

(Up next: Lions at Panthers (5-9), 1 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 24)