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.

Five Lions’ positives taken from opening loss to Eagles

ALLEN PARK — After watching film of the Lions 38-35 loss to the Eagles on Monday, coach Dan Campbell said he felt better than he did right after the game at Ford Field.

That’s a positive sign and not the only one.

1. Running back D’Andre Swift could not have played much better with 144 rushing yards and a touchdown, and three catches for 31 yards. “It goes without saying Swift is special and we know that. Just getting him his touches, he’s the one, he’s the one that’s the secret sauce,’’ Campbell said. “He can turn routine plays into explosive plays that will hurt you if you’re the opponent.’’

2. Rookie linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez, a fan favorite already, had a solid start. “All in all I thought he did a nice job, there’s a couple plays I know he wishes he could have back,’’ Campbell said. “For a rookie who went in and played a substantial role for us I thought he did a nice job. He was physical, he was aggressive, zeros MA’s (missed assignments) he was on top of it. That was good to see. Now we need more out of special teams from him which we’ll get.’’

3. Campbell made a point to mention the fans. “That place was fricking booming. They keep doing that, that gives us a great chance,’’ Campbell said. Seweel said the crowd noise was so loud that at one point he couldn’t hear quarterback Jared Goff and had to kneel down in the huddle to block out the noise. He was not complaining, by the way.

4. Right tackle Penei Sewell said the difference in the offense is night and day from last season. That starts with Goff who threw one interception in the first half but found a groove in the second  half. “There were some rough moments early but I loved the way he responded in the second half to get us back into it. I thought he settled in and did some really good things, he gave us a chance. I was very confident when we get this ball back we’re going to go down and win this game. I felt very good about where we were at offensively with him,’’ Campbell said.

5. Rookie defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson had his ups and downs and notched just one tackle on the stat sheet despite playing 90 percent of the defensive snaps. Campbell is not worried. “The takeaway I had, and I think we all had, was ‘OK, This is what it’s like, this is it. This is the true taste of the NFL and adjusting to that caliber of athlete in a full game,’’’ Campbell said. “Now, there are certainly some things to where it looks like he’s got to make that play, but he needs a little help too. … Honestly I’m not even worried about him, he’s going to adjust from this. He’s prideful, he’s a pro. We already know that about him as a rookie I think we all do. He’s going to want to better himself, he’s going to learn from this and he will be better.’’

(Up next: Washington Commanders (1-0) at Lions (0-1), at 1 p.m. on Sunday at Ford Field.)

Lions offer no excuses after loss to Eagles; still a few positives emerged

DETROIT — The Lions fought back from a 17-point deficit in the third quarter to make it a game, but they came up just short.

Quarterback Jalen Hurts and the Philadelphia Eagles were just too much and prevailed in a 38-35 win on Sunday in the season opener at Ford Field.

“What mistakes did they make? They really didn’t,’’ Lions coach Dan Campbell said.

The coach made no excuses. His defense allowed 38 points and Hurts provided 333 yards (243 yards passing).

“I was proud we fought our way back, but we’ve got a lot to clean up,’’ Campbell said.

The Lions haven’t won a season opener since 2017. And, again, Campbell and the players made no excuses, but they did find reasons that this team is different from the one that lost 44-6 to the Eagles last season.

“The good news is we didn’t play very well, but we only lost by 3,’’ Campbell said 

Running back D’Andre Swift provided a spark offensively with 144 rushing yards (9.6 yards per carry) along with 3 catches for 31 yards.

Swift credited the execution up front as phenomenal along with the blocking downfield. 

“It’s good but we let one slip away from us,’’ Swift said.

That seemed to be a theme afterward. 

Quarterback Jared Goff (21-37, 215 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception) agreed that they left too much on the field.

“We felt like we could have scored 50 points,’’ Goff said. “We shot ourselves in the foot.’’

His interception which was returned for a touchdown in the second quarter gave the Eagles a 21-7 lead. Goff said it was a matter of miscommunication between him and tight end T.J. Hockenson. 

The Lions offense opened with a 9-play, 75-yard touchdown drive, but then sputtered with three 3-and-outs. Goff found more of a rhythm in the second half and in doing so said they may have found a bit of their offensive identity including explosive plays and going downfield.

The Lions were down 24-14 at the half, but scored three touchdowns in the second half. Ama-Ra St. Brown caught a 4-yard pass, Jamaal Williams scored on a 1-yard run and wide receiver D.J. Chark caught a 22-pass in the corner of the endzone.

The defense had its hands full from the get-go.

“I think in the run game, we did a good job against them. It was more of the pass, drop back, scramble situations that we weren’t able to contain him,’’ linebacker Alex Anzalone (9 tackles) said. “Obviously, that was a focus and a point of emphasis this week, so we’ve just got to figure out how to be disciplined and our rush lanes and where the help is in coverage situations and get it cleaned up.”

Rookie linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez, who drew loud cheers every time his name was mentioned by the P.A. announcer, played against Hurts in college. “He’s very slick and obviously, he’s progressed in the League. He got a couple of runs on us, so we’ve got to fix it. The next day, we’ve got to fix it,’’ Rodriguez said.

 Safety Tracy Walker led the defense with 11 tackles, a sack and a pass defense. He could have added to those numbers, but was tossed out of the game in the second half after two personal fouls on the same play. 

“I just let my team down. Me, as a team captain, I’ve just got to be better,’’ Walker said. “I was hot-headed at the moment, and like I said, I’ve just got to make better decisions at the end of the day.”

Cornerback Jeff Okudah, who is coming back from a torn Achilles, finished with 10 tackles while linebacker Alex Anzalone had 9.

“I think I did pretty well, but at the end of the day, it’s all about the win,’’ Okudah said. “That’s something that we preach upon, and the win is what’s going to change the narrative about the Detroit Lions.”

First-round pick Aidan Hutchinson only notched one tackle. His presence was felt even if it didn’t show up in the stats.

“He’ll be better next week,’’ Campbell said. “He needed this.”

(Up next: Washington Commanders at Lions, at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 18. The Commanders defeated the Jaguars, 28-22, on Sunday.)