Projecting where Detroit Lions 2022 draft class fits into depth chart – Lions Wire

There are eight new draftees entering the Detroit Lions depth chart after the 2022 NFL draft. But how do these new pieces fit into the existing Lions depth chart?
From No. 2 overall pick Aidan Hutchinson to seventh-rounder Chase Lucas, here is how the Lions draft class projects to initially impact the team’s roster and depth chart.
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One of the big pre-draft selling points for Hutchinson was his ability to impact the opposing offense from multiple defensive alignments. For a defense like what Aaron Glenn and the Lions run, it frees up the No. 2 overall pick to do more than just one thing.
Hutchinson was at his best in college aligned as a strong-side (OT with a TE or FB to that side) inline DE. In the 4-man front the Lions plan to use as the primary base, that’s an ideal role. But Hutchinson’s quickness off the snap and speed around the edge also is far and away the best the Lions have at EDGE, which likey pegs him more for the starting weakside role, a spot primarily filled by Charles Harris in 2021. That’s the role Lions DL coach Todd Wash laid out in his discussion with team reporter Mike O’Hara.
In odd-man fronts — the Lions will continue to mix in 3-man lines and some 5-2 fronts as well — Hutchinson figures to occupy the weakside rush OLB role. That position flexes into a hand-in-dirt, tighter alignment in a 5-man front, which will be used when the opposing offense goes into a heavy package with 2 in-line TEs and especially when there is also a fullback in the game.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
As the fastest man on the Lions offensive roster, Williams’ early role is easy to see. He’ll align outside, likely as the “Z” receiver or flanker role. That spot is the wide outside receiver with the slot receiver or flexed-out TE aligned to that side on the inside. Williams’ speed and length make him an ideal candidate to work the deeper portions of the outside while T.J. Hockenson, Amon-Ra St. Brown and RB D’Andre Swift work more underneath.
Williams does have the ability to play the “X” receiver, but that is a role that suits DJ Chark better, and also St. Brown when he plays outside.
(AP Photo/John Amis)
While Paschal nominally plays the same position as Hutchinson, he’s a very different type of player. Paschal is a power-oriented EDGE who was at his best in college attacking inside and using his quickness to set up his repertoire of power moves.
His role in a 3-man front is easy. He’ll be the 5-tech, the DE that aligns shaded to the outside shoulder of the offensive tackle. That’s the spot Michael Brockers and Levi Onwuzurike shouldered most of last season. In a 4-man front, Paschal’s role is a little tougher to forecast.
Based on what Wash said in his interview and how the Lions depth chart currently sits, it appears they like Paschal as an undersized (he’s 6-2/268) rush tackle. The starting 3T role that Nick Williams played a year ago is open and figured to be the new primary home for Onwuzurike and Brockers. If Paschal can bulk up to 280 pounds or so, he’s the most athletic option of that bunch to help create pressure from the inside. But at just 268 pounds, Paschal is at a major disadvantage inside even though he does have outstanding play strength.
Paschal can play the strongside end role in the 4-man front, likely starting out as the backup to Romeo Okwara in that capacity. Both Paschal and Hutchinson have enough size and athletic ability to play either DE role.
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Based on the Lions depth chart at safety entering the draft weekend, it’s pretty easy to envision where the third-rounder from Illinois fits. Joseph will start next to veteran Tracy Walker in the split-safety look in the base defense that uses two safeties. Joseph is more of a coverage-oriented safety than a downhill/box type, so expect to see him primarily in a deeper-field role with Walker handling the more physical duties.
When the Lions go to three safeties, Joseph figures to be aligned as the high safety in the middle of the field. That plays to his ball skills and range in coverage he showed in his final year at Illinois. DeShon Elliott will play the No. 3 role but could also replace Joseph in short-yardage situations or when Glenn and the defense want to be more physical.
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This projection is presuming Mitchell is fully recovered from the torn ACL that cost him nearly all of his final season at Virginia Tech. But if he’s healthy, Mitchell should be the top backup tight end to Pro Bowl starter, T.J. Hockenson.
Mitchell’s game for the Hokies is similar to how Hockenson is used in Detroit — at his best flexed out in the slot and as an intermediate-range receiving weapon. He did play inline and gives definite effort as a blocker, but like Hockenson it isn’t always as effective as hoped. Given Hockenson’s injury history, having a guy like Mitchell who can do the same things as his backup makes a lot of sense. He’ll compete for that role with holdover Brock Wright, who flashed some ability as a receiver as an undrafted rookie in 2021.
It’s when the Lions deploy a multiple TE set where things get more difficult to project Mitchell. He can play the H-back role and work as a move TE, but the Lions figure to use Hockenson in that role and bring Garrett Griffin in as a blocking presence more than using Mitchell with Hockenson. Expect to see a lot of Mitchell on special teams and as the primary backup for fullback Jadson Cabinda as well.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Rodriguez is a classic MIKE backer. He doesn’t have the ideal size at just 5-11 and 232 pounds, but his game and playing style echo back to Chris Spielman and Zach Thomas types of between-the-tackles tackling machines.
I expect to see Rodriguez as the MLB when the Lions go to a 3-LB set behind the 4-man line, though he will need to beat out Jarrad Davis for that role. He could also see action replacing Alex Anzalone in the 2-LB sets against offenses that have strong inside run games. Rodriguez could also push Derrick Barnes off the field in 2-LB sets against a flexed-out TE if he proves capable in coverage. That’s a training camp/preseason competition to monitor, a battle that Chris Board, Shaun Dion Hamilton and perhaps Davis will factor into as well. Rodriguez will begin camp looking up at those players.
(AP Photo/Mario Houben)
Figuring out where Houston will play is tough. He earned draft-worthy status as a pass-rushing OLB in his one season at Jackson State, but at his size (6-1/241) he’s too small to be anything but a situational substitute as a pass-rush specialist. Before switching at Jackson State, Houston was an off-ball LB at Florida.
The Lions tellingly listed him at linebacker, which is a hint they envision him doing more off-ball work. But as a rookie, expect to primarily–perhaps exclusively–see “The Problem” on special teams. His draft status gives Houston an advantage over returnees like Tavante Beckett and Anthony Pittman. Houston’s positional versatility is an asset over more limited pass-rush specialists on the roster, notably Jessie Lemonier and Rashod Berry.
 
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Lucas faces an uphill battle to make the active roster as a rookie. A lightweight (180 pounds at 5-11) outside-only cornerback, he’s starting out behind a large group that includes Jeff Okudah, Amani Oruwariye, Jerry Jacobs, Ifeatu Melifonwu, free agent signee Mike Hughes and perhaps Will Harris, who is converting from safety.
It’s possible the Lions view Lucas as a slot option, where the roster is fuzzy. A.J. Parker started inside as an undrafted rookie. Okudah and Hughes have the skillsets to kick inside, though Hughes has been significantly more effective playing outside for Minnesota and Kansas City in his career. Harris could also be in front of Lucas inside, too. His style of play at Arizona State did not show a lot of instant quickness or physicality versus the run, two requisite traits to play the slot in Aaron Glenn’s defense.
 
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Christopher Jones
Christopher Jones
Articles: 5026

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