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Lions 2022 offseason: Ranking the positional needs – Lions Wire

Coming off a 3-13-1 season at the beginning of the franchise overhaul, the Detroit Lions definitely have some serious needs in the 2022 offseason. Sorting through those on-the-field needs requires a little bit of understanding of what coach Dan Campbell and the Lions are trying to accomplish.
Here are the top priorities of need for the Lions in the coming offseason, needs which can be filled via the 2022 NFL draft or during free agency.
Podcast: Ranking Lions offseason needs and some Stafford closure
(AP Photo/Rick Osentoski)
Much of the need at cornerback is based on uncertainty more than a lack of potential solutions already on the roster.
No. 1 CB Jeff Okudah is coming off a season-ending injury suffered in Week 1. His successor as the top CB, Amani Oruwariye, played well until a thumb injury ended his season early. Rookie Jerry Jacobs played far above his UDFA status before tearing his knee up in December. Fellow rookies Ifeatu Melifonwu and AJ Parker each showed flashes of being good NFL players but also battled injuries and growing pains, particularly Parker in the slot.
This is a CB unit crying out for a stable veteran free agent more than it needs an infusion in the draft.

The Lions have their 2022 starting QB in Jared Goff. While some may grumble about that status, the team has made it abundantly clear No. 16 will be the unquestioned starter for the coming season. However…
Goff’s status beyond 2022 is very much up in the air. And the eventual successor isn’t currently on the roster. In fact, Goff is the only quarterback on the roster once free agency begins; backup Tim Boyle and third-stringer David Blough are both free agents, with practice squad refugee Steven Montez on a reserve/future contract. That’s it.
To what degree of emphasis the Lions address the quarterback spot this offseason is certainly up for ongoing debate. But they absolutely have to add at least one QB to the mix to run a basic practice. Expect more than one new Lions quarterback in the coming months.
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Detroit found a keeper in Alim McNeill as the starting nose tackle. The third-round pick from North Carolina State deservedly made the All-Rookie team and has a bright future. He has a capable backup in John Penisini, who played better as his second NFL season bore on. Nose tackle appears fine.
In the Lions defensive scheme, they typically start three interior-type defenders. Call them tackles or 5-tech ends, it’s the same concept in Aaron Glenn’s defense. One of those 2021 starters is Nick Williams, who is a free agent. The other is 31-year-old Michael Brockers, a potential cap casualty.
That leaves 2021 second-round pick Levi Onwuzurike and oft-injured project Jashon Cornell on the active roster. Onwuzurike was a big disappointment as a rookie, struggling with both a lingering hip injury and the relative speed and strength of the NFL game. Cornell has been healthy enough to play four snaps in two seasons. Eric Banks and Bruce Hector are on reserve/future deals.
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T.J. Hockenson has emerged as an above-average talent as the starting tight end…when he’s healthy. But he’s finished two of his three NFL seasons on injured reserve and plays with a style that doesn’t offer much self-protection.
Injuries and roster attrition leave Brock Wright the only other TE on the roster. Wright was an undrafted rookie in 2021 and caught 12 passes in the final seven games. He’s not a blocker, unfortunately. The Lions plucked Jared Pinkney off the Rams’ practice squad for a brief late-season audition of 44 snaps. Shane Zylstra and Matt Sokol are on reserve/future contracts.
This is one spot where the Lions must add at least one player who can reliably emerge as the No. 2 TE in 2022 and hope the developmental-oriented coaching staff can coax Wright, Pinkney or someone else into a more useful weapon, too.
(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
The Lions deploy two starting off-ball (inside) linebackers. Both of the primary starters from 2021, Alex Anzalone and Jalen Reeves-Maybin, are free agents. It’s extremely unlikely both return, and it’s far from a given that either comes back to Detroit.
That leaves Derrick Barnes as one starter. Barnes struggled to the team’s worst Pro Football Focus grade of any player with at least 100 snaps. While PFF grades aren’t always the best barometer, there’s no question Barnes must take a big step forward as a starter. And right now, he’s the only starter at ILB.
The Lions brought back Josh Woods, who bagged 13 total tackles in his one 2021 start. Anthony Pittman (ERFA) and Tavante Beckett are also in the fold, but none of those players appear capable of being consistent NFL starters. Even with the off-ball backer being the least-important position in Glenn’s defensive scheme, it’s not a position that can be ignored. Detroit has to get better here, both in the short- and long-term.
(AP Photo/Duane Burleson)
A promising position group entering 2021, injuries ruined the EDGE for Detroit. Starters Romeo Okwara and Trey Flowers were each lost for the season after a combined 11 games played. Even the impressive reclamation project that was Charles Harris didn’t do nearly enough to create a pass rush at OLB for the Lions defense.
Harris and his team-high 7.5 sacks are hitting free agency. Romeo Okwara (10 sacks in 2020 with no schematic help whatsoever) should be back and healthy, and his younger brother Julian (five sacks in 2021) is a capable pass-rush specialist in sub-packages. Flowers sure seems like a cap casualty or trade candidate. Even if he’s back to start the season, the cagey veteran wasn’t a natural schematic fit in Detroit either.
The Lions not only need a starter at EDGE, they need an impact talent. It wouldn’t be bad to add more than one, if possible.
Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
Detroit has one wide receiver established. Amon-Ra St. Brown was one of the NFL’s best wideouts, not just rookies, over the final month of the season. He figures to be the top target in 2022, too.
The rest of the receiving corps? Yikes!
Kalif Raymond (48 catches) and Josh Reynolds (19) are free agents. They were No. 2 and No. 3 in WR targets and receptions. Quintez Cephus (15 catches) was lost to a shoulder injury after just five games and doesn’t have any extra speed or quickness to lose in his return. KhaDarel Hodge (13 catches) is also a free agent. Trinity Benson was a flop in his first season in Detroit after coming from Denver via trade.
Wide receivers coach Antwan Randle El said it clearly. The Lions need three new receivers who can all play right away in 2022.
Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
Once free agency begins, the only safeties on the Lions roster will be Will Harris and Brady Breeze. Harris has consistently been one of the NFL’s weakest starters in his three years in Detroit, while Breeze is a waiver wire acquisition late in the year.
Tracy Walker is a free agent. So is Dean Marlowe. C.J. Moore too. Bobby Price is an ERFA. Bringing Walker back would certainly help, but it’s not a given he returns.
In short, the Lions have one below-average starter at the second-most important position on the field in Glenn’s defense, after the pass rush. The Lions defense simply does not work without two good safeties and often calls upon playing three. Improving the pass rush (the most important one) will help, but to some extent, a pass rush can be schemed up. Good safety play cannot. More to the point, it’s impossible to mitigate bad safety play in Glenn’s defense. Detroit has to add two above-average starters at safety immediately.
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