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 GM: Hockenson would have been traded even with a 6-1 record

ALLEN PARK — Brad Holmes, the Lions general manager, insisted on Wednesday that he would have traded tight end T.J. Hockenson even if the Lions 1-6 record was reversed.

The 25-year-old Hockenson was traded to the Vikings for a second-round pick (2023) and a third-rounder (2024) on Tuesday, the NFL trade deadline day.

“This move was not reflective of our record. If our record was reversed and it made sense for us we would have still done it,’’ Holmes said during Wednesday’s practice “It wasn’t anything of that nature, it made sense for us and we’ll move forward with it.’’

Hockenson, a 2019 first-round pick, had 26 catches for 395 yards and three touchdowns in the first seven games.

“I think that we’ve proven that our offense can score a lot of points, I’m sure he was a part of it. But the deal would have made sense, it was not based on record whatsoever,’’ Holmes reiterated. “I think it was a good deal for the future of our team and that’s my job, I’ve always got to have a laser focus on the current and also the future.’’

Holmes said this is not a sign that the team has given up on the season after losing five straight games.

“We’re working hard every single day to win as many games as possible. We’ve still got 10 games left and that’s what we’re working hard to do,’’ Holmes said. “Just because we’re in that phase of rebuilding doesn’t mean we can’t go out and work as hard as we can and win some games.’’

He said it is archaic thinking that trading in the division is a bad thing.

“When we make these kinds of decisions I’m totally at peace. T.J. is a good football player and the next time we play him he’ll still be a good football player, he’ll make a play or make some plays and score a touchdown or whatever he does. The camera will be in my face, I’ll look at it and wave,’’ Holmes said.

Hockenson is in the fourth year of his rookie deal. The Lions picked up his $4.9 million fifth-year option, putting him under contract through 2023. He is eligible for an extension.

Holmes said that many factors went into the trade decision and wo9rking on an extension for Hockenson was just one of them.

The GM also thanked Hockenson for his contributions to the team.

“I want to publicly express my appreciation for everything T.J. did for us. We’ve had a great relationship since I’ve been here. I wish him all the best, besides when we’re playing him, going forward,’’ Holmes said.

(Up next: Packers (3-5) at Lions (1-6) at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 6)

Despite Lions’ slow start, Sheila Ford Hamp has confidence in the leadership

ALLEN PARK — This season’s 1-5 start is not at all what the Lions expected. That includes coach Dan Campbell and owner Sheila Ford Hamp.

While Campbell has chances to express his frustration each week, Hamp keeps communication lines open with the coach, but doesn’t talk to the media often. However she met with reporters before Wednesday’s practice to make things clear.

“We’ve got 11 more games to go, so I just don’t want everyone to push the panic button and give up the ship,” Hamp said, according to The Associated Press. “I think we’ve got the right people in place to pull this off, and I truly believe that. I wouldn’t say that if I didn’t.”

Before she spoke, Campbell reiterated his stance on the first six games.

“I’m not discouraged. I’m discouraged that we don’t have more than one win like anybody is, but I’m not discouraged like ‘I can’t believe it, we’re just not going anywhere.’ I just don’t believe that,’’ Campbell said. “I’m not going to make excuses, we should have more than one win but I’m not discouraged, we’re still making progress. We’re getting a good look at these guys on the roster.’’

Quarterback Jared Goff was happy to hear that Hamp has voiced her support through the media. “I’m very confident, we’ve got the right guys in place,’’ quarterback Jared Goff said.

In his second season as Lions coach, Campbell owns a 4-18-1 record. It appears his job is safe along with GM Brad Holmes.

Hamp, who was instrumental in the hiring of both, said that she believes in their leadership. 

Campbell’s predecessor, Matt Patricia, was fired after two and a half seasons with a 13-29-1 record

NOTES: Lions punter Jackf Fox, who signed a three-year extension this week that will pay him $3.775 million per season, said he still drives the car he had in college (a Toyota 4Runner) and has no plans to splurge on a new one. … Rookie wide receiver Jameson Williams, the second-round draft pick, has been rehabbing a torn ACL. Campbell said on Wednesday he expects Williams will see playing time this season but it will probably be at least another month. … Running back D’Andre Swift, who has missed the last three games, practiced on Wednesday. … WR Amon-Ra St. Brown, who was pulled from Sunday’s game and placed in concussion protocol, was wearing a red no-contact jersey at practice. 

(NEXT UP: Miami Dolphins (4-3) at Lions (1-5) at 1 p.m. on Sunday.)