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Plenty remains unsettled when it comes to the Detroit Lions’ depth chart heading into the 2022 season.
Much of this will be settled in the upcoming weeks, as the Lions are set to begin training camp on Wednesday, July 27.
The Lions have to sort out starters at certain positions, while finding reliable depth options in areas where a starter is entrenched.
From afar, this makes for an intriguing preseason slate.
The Lions will be featured on the HBO show, “Hard Knocks”, which chronicles a team’s day-to-day activities during training camp. With so many position battles, the show is certain to feature plenty of drama and competition.
Here’s a ranking (from least to most important) of the upcoming position battles that will shake out during the Lions’ training camp and preseason schedule.
Riley Patterson was a blessing in disguise for the Lions. After joining the team in Week 10, he finished the year perfect on extra points while missing just one field goal over the season’s final seven games.
Despite this reliability, the Lions brought back Austin Seibert to once again compete for the job. Seibert was claimed off waivers after the preseason and finished 10-of-12 before undergoing surgery and missing the remainder of the season.
Though Patterson was dependable, he missed his only attempt from 50-plus yards in 2021. Seibert, meanwhile, went 1-for-2.
Last season, the Lions were in a similar predicament with competing kickers Randy Bullock and Zane Gonzalez. Both were cut after the preseason, with Seibert being claimed off waivers later. It’s unlikely that this competition will end with both kickers being out of a job, but a leader is far from decided.
Detroit has two established starters in D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams. Both will get their share of touches while helping quarterback Jared Goff both on the ground and through the air. There’s no doubts about the pecking order at the top of this position’s depth chart.
However, the third contributor at the position remains up in the air. Detroit has options that contributed last year, though none ran away from the pack at the spot. Craig Reynolds, Godwin Igwebuike and Jermar Jefferson all saw time in the backfield but produced mixed results.
Reynolds was a story to behold last year, famously meeting many of his teammates in the huddle during the Lions’ first preseason game. Eventually, he caught on with the practice squad before making the roster late in the season and producing a 112-yard game on the ground in a win over Arizona. He finished the 2021 campaign with 230 yards on 55 carries, good for a solid 4.2 yards per rush attempt.
Igwebuike served as a return man last season and showed versatility out of the backfield but dealt with fumble issues that could plague him in his quest to win the job. Jefferson, meanwhile, may have the inside track as a 2021 seventh-round pick.
A dark horse candidate is 2022 undrafted free agent Greg Bell. An injury suffered in the pre-draft process hurt his stock, but some believe he is skilled enough to have a fighting chance at making the roster.
Deliberation aside, this is truly an open race between four players who have their specific skills. In a pinch, a player like Igwebuike who can contribute in several ways may have the upper hand.
Much like the running back position, the Lions have an established starter at tight end in T.J. Hockenson. Heading into a contract year, Hockenson is certainly a player to monitor.
However, there is legitimate intrigue as to who will serve as the backup to the Iowa product. Last year, Detroit leaned on undrafted free agent Brock Wright and 25-year-old Shane Zylstra in the latter stages of the season.
Both Wright and Zylstra are back and will contend for the spot. In the offseason, Detroit added free agents Garrett Griffin and Devin Funchess to compete for the job as well.
Griffin is a blocking tight end who played for the New Orleans Saints during Campbell’s time as the tight ends coach there, so he may have an advantage. Funchess, meanwhile, is a converted receiver who hasn’t played in an NFL game since 2019.
This competition seems wide open, as there’s little to call upon in terms of experience. It’s worth mentioning that fullback Jason Cabinda could also see time at this position, so Detroit may prioritize keeping the best blocker of this group.
Head coach Dan Campbell called the ongoing competition for the starting linebacker spots, “a bloodbath.” He made it clear that the team would feel good about the players left standing at the end of the competition.
Right now, veteran Alex Anzalone has an inside track at one of the two available positions due to his experience with defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn’s scheme from a season ago. He started all 14 games he played in during the 2021 campaign, and amassed a total of 78 tackles. He also recorded a sack and interception each.
Recent free agent signing Chris Board began his career with the Baltimore Ravens as predominately a special teamer but saw his role on defense increase each year. He could help replace Jalen Reeves-Maybin, who is off to Houston, and earn a starting role.
Two young options at the position are second-year backer Derrick Barnes and rookie Malcolm Rodriguez. Barnes struggled in pass coverage a season ago but is a player that Campbell and company would love to see succeed. Rodriguez, meanwhile, is undersized and could start the year at the bottom.
There’s also Jarrad Davis, who is back in Detroit after a season with the New York Jets. He will compete for the job, but there is belief that he could have more success playing in an edge-rushing role.
Other potential candidates include Anthony Pittman, Josh Woods and Shaun Dion Hamilton.
There’s no question that Goff will be back in the saddle for a second year as the Lions’ starter behind center. His future beyond 2022 is hinged on his performance this season, but his job is safe for the coming year.
Behind him, Detroit has questions. Tim Boyle and David Blough were both re-signed in the offseason and will duel for the backup job. Boyle missed the first half of the season after suffering an injury in the 2021 preseason finale but reclaimed the backup spot when he returned.
With Goff sidelined for three games last year, Boyle was the one who got the chance to start. He struggled in his three starts, throwing three touchdowns against six interceptions. Blough has had an opportunity, starting five games in 2019 with former starter Matthew Stafford sidelined.
The Purdue product went winless in his five starts. Because of the lack of proven success, it’s clear that this is an open race. Boyle has tantalizing arm strength that likely gives him the edge but he will need to show more consistency if he wants to lock up the position.
Amani Oruwariye will start at cornerback on one side of the Lions’ defense. Opposite him? That’s where it becomes uncertain.
Jeff Okudah is among the top storylines heading into the 2022 season. Once the third overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, he hasn’t lived up to expectations. Injuries have been tough to overcome, as he’s played in a total of 10 games over his first two professional seasons.
Okudah will compete with Will Harris and recent free agent acquisition Mike Hughes among others. Though he has a chance to win the outside job, a move to slot corner could also be beneficial for the former Ohio State star.
Hughes is among the most experienced options in the defensive back room, having played four seasons and a total of 41 games. The Lions are hoping for him to be an immediate contributor in some capacity.
Harris, meanwhile, is a hybrid safety-corner who raised eyebrows with his performance at the latter position late in the season. His versatility is viewed as an asset to the defense.
Okudah will have plenty of chances to win the job, but Detroit will certainly evaluate other options. Time is running out for the former top pick, so his performance in training camp is paramount to his future.
This article was produced by the staff at Sports Illustrated/All Lions. For more, visit si.com/nfl/lions.
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