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 Dan Campbell says Jared Goff one of biggest reasons for turnaround

ALLEN PARK — Dan Campbell offered a perfect example on Monday of why Jared Goff is the right quarterback at the right time for the Detroit Lions.

Prior to Sunday night’s prime time game at Green Bay, Campbell said he was trying to set the mood with the team, light the fire so to speak.

“Your guys should be riled up and you’re just dousing them with gasoline. Then I’m kind of pulling Goff and saying, ‘Make sure you keep these guys calm,’’’ Campbell laughed as he said it.

“(Goff’s) got to be, that’s what he has to do for us. He has to be the constant, there can’t be the ebbs and flows the highs and lows, he has to stay centered and be that for your team. … He fits us, he really does,’’ the coach added.

Goff played a big role in the Lions’ turnaround from a 1-6 start to finishing with a huge 20-16 win over the Packers to finish the season at 9-8.

“We’re about running the football, play-action pass and when you do those things you need a quarterback that can get you in the right play and is very good at accuracy, controlling the football, decision making and he fits the bill on all of that,’’ Campbell said. “It’s a hell of a year by him. He’s one of the biggest reasons we got this turnaround — just his decision making, taking care of the football.’’

Goff ended the season throwing 324 straight passes without an interception. That’s the fifth longest streak in NFL history. Again, he’s a huge reason the Lions finished the regular season with the least number of turnovers of any NFL team.

Over the season Goff threw 29 touchdown passes, seven interceptions, completed 65.1 percent of his passes and finished with a 99.3 passer rating.

“It feels great, it’s been a lot of fun this year. I said — whenever that was — I felt like I was playing my best football. I still feel that way,’’ Goff said on Monday. “Surrounded by a lot of great players, a lot of great coaches, I have been able to have some good success personally. 

“More than anything I think being able to finish with a winning record as a quarterback and leader of this a team coming back from 3-13 and to do what we did this year, granted we didn’t make the playoffs,’’ Goff added. “The progress feels incredible and where we are right now heading into the offseason feels really good.’’

Goff has been surrounded with solid offensive talent and protected by what is arguable the best offensive line in the NFL.

“I think he played amazing this year personally. Obviously you look at his stats, the way he took care of the ball the last 10 weeks, he has been one of the best in the league,’’ wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown said. “Just that alone has been something really hard to do. The fact he’s shown that he can do that is a testament to the hard work he puts in, the care that he takes, the approach he takes to the game. That wins you football games. … Just that alone shows you how much he cares about this team, how much work he’s put in, I’m excited to play receiver for him.’’

Goff has said repeatedly in the last week that he appreciated being surrounded by a special group and on Monday said this season stacks up pretty high in his career.

“Maybe it’s prisoner of the moment, but this team is as special of a group as I’ve ever been a part of – it’s not prisoner of the moment because we were 1-6 … The people in this room and the people in this locker room, the coaches, it’s truly incredible the mental toughness and the perseverance that this group has that will carry us into hopefully greater things in the future,’’ Goff said. “It’s very humbling and I’m proud to be a part of it and say I’m a leader of it and to be around these people every day this year.’’

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

Lions finish with winning record after huge win over Packers at Lambeau

It was not at all surprising that the Lions played the Green Bay Packers like everything depended on a win. Detroit knew when it took the field there was no chance they could earn a playoff berth after the Seahawks beat the Rams in overtime, but they played like it was their Super Bowl.

The Lions ended up with a 20-16 win at Green Bay on Sunday night to knock the Packers out of the postseason. 

“It was a great win, I was proud of our guys, they played their ass off, they were ready for this game,’’ coach Dan Campbell said. “They wanted to prove something and they did that. This team has hung in there all year long, it’s a special group. The hard part of this is it’s over for this season because it is a special group. If you’ve got to go down, and it’s the last one for the season, what a better way to go than that for 2022.’’

The final play perfectly captured their season. It was a fourth-and-1 at the Packers’ 15-yard line with 1:15 on the clock. A field goal would have given the Packers too much time to go down the field and possibly win.

Like he’s done all season, Campbell trusted his offense and went for the win on fourth down. 

Boom – Jared Goff to D.J. Chark for 4 yards, the first down and the win. Detroit was 2-for-2 on fourth-down plays in the win.

Campbell said he wanted to put the game in Goff’s hands. “Let’s let Goff finish this out for us … We believe in Goff,’’ Campbell said.

The Lions finished the season 9-8, their first winning season since 2017. They also finished 5-1 in NFC North games while the Packers were 3-3 in division games.

It wasn’t a miracle, it was hard work and it paid off.

Five of the many reasons the Lions won:

1. Safety Kerby Joseph intercepted Aaron Rodgers on third-and-10 with 3:37 left in the fourth quarter. Goff and the Lions took over and made enough plays to keep the ball out of Rodgers’ hands for the rest of the game. Joseph also had an interception earlier in the game, but it was negated by a holding call. 

2. Jared Goff had better numbers in games this season, but certainly he came through when he needed to on Sunday night. He finished the season with nine straight games without an interception or what he called a “great little streak.” Against the Packers he was 23 of 34 for 224 yards with no interceptions. “(This team has) a lot of toughness, this team is built to handle adversity and we showed it tonight .This team would never win in these conditions on the road at Lambeau and we came in and did it,’’ Goff said. 

3. Aaron Rodgers had trouble with the Lions defense in Detroit on Nov. 6 when the Lions prevailed 15-9. That day he was intercepted three times.  Sunday he made a few big plays but not quite enough. He was sacked twice by Aidan Hutchinson and pressured start to finish by the young defensive group. “It verified what I thought. It wasn’t too big for them,’’ Campbell said. “They went out and played ball. Certainly at an NFL level, but they looked like kids again.’’

4. Running back Jamaal Williams scored a pair of rushing touchdowns to surpass Barry Sanders for the franchise single season mark. Sanders finished with 16 in 1991. Williams has 17 this season. Plus he hit the 1,000-yard mark in the win. “Everybody is happy for Jamaal. He’s the ultimate team guy,’’ Campbell said. The coach has repeatedly talked about Williams’ consistency throughout the season. 

5. Dan Campbell and his coordinators (Ben Johnson, Aaron Glenn and Dave Fipp) had the guys prepared physically and mentally. They knew they couldn’t get into the playoffs during pre-game warmups, but it didn’t matter. Campbell said they were unfazed. They played physical football just like they do in every game, in every circumstance. Campbell never, ever gave up on these guys even when they were 1-6. At that point he was continually asked why he saw improvement in his team when they weren’t winning and he continually said he saw it coming. Now we know those were not empty words. 

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)