Defensive Report Card
This report card will feature each defensive position group featuring starters and depth of the Detroit Lions roster and giving them a grade. These grades should give insight for what the team needs to upgrade over the off-season.
The Detroit Lions struggled against the run this past year (29th in the league). However, as the season went on, this unit definitely improved. Isaiah Buggs (free agent) and Alim McNeil seemed to have solidified themselves on the interior line. Aiden Hutchinson is only getting better and James Houston was a surprise rookie contributor rushing the passer. Both of which were rated among the top 10 rookies of 2022. The Lions are very young at the position and need to keep letting them progress. With that said, it’ll be interesting what they do with a few of the veterans on the roster (Michael Brockers, Charles Harris, Romeo & Julian Okurwa). According to Spotrac, releasing all four would result in a cap savings of $22.8M. And don’t forget about Josh Pascal and Levi Onwuzurike, both 2nd round picks of the new regime, will continue to get opportunities to get better and develop.
This was a better year for the linebackers. Malcolm Rodriguez was a welcomed surprise in the 6th round of the 2022 draft and veteran Alex Anzalone performed well. However, both players still leave a lot to be desired from the position. Derrick Barnes was one of the few draft picks of the Brad Holmes regime that hasn’t been successful to date. The front office could really look to find a dynamic player at this position to really help the defensive line and that run game.
Jeff Okuda is the Lions best corner, but the team has a decision to make on his 5th year rookie option. He’s been injured each year he’s been in the league and has yet to finish a season on the field. The numbers would suggest that they wouldn’t pick up his option and give Okuda a “make or break” year. Additionally, with the 6th and 18th pick in the draft, could they find a 2nd corner to pair with Okuda and immediately upgrade the position. This seems like the most likely solution.
Overall the team was 30th in the league against the pass. With that said, the safeties performed strong, most notably Kerby Joseph. He had an immediate impact on this team in his rookie year and could make an interesting conversation about what to do with him and Tracy Walker on the field. Will they simply let DeShon Elliot go and start Joseph and Walker next year? He’s a free agent and the other two are locked in for at least 2 more years.
The kicking game struggled to start the year. But when Badgley was kicking for the team, it appeared to be solidified. With that said, he doesn’t have a strong leg and isn’t the most accurate. So it would be fair to bring in some competition in training camp. Fox has the Punting job down. Lastly, one punt return for a touchdown and zero kick of returns. Which is fine, but you’d like to get a little more dynamic at that position.
This unit is a lot closer than what some people might think. The front four seems to be the most solidified on the team. They could use a dynamic player at linebacker and cornerback. The grade of C might appear generous based on how they finished. But given how young this side of the ball is and how much they improved from start to finish, this is an appropriate grade.
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As the confetti fell in victory lane in Daytona on the Hendrick Motorsports No....