Ranking the Lions needs for 2022 NFL draft weekend

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What do the Detroit Lions need the most, and which positions can they afford to let slide during the 2022 NFL draft weekend?

Ranking the needs for Lions GM Brad Holmes and his collaborators takes into account the current roster, contract situations for the starters and positional emphasis for the team and schemes.

This doesn’t mean the Lions see the same needs with the same priorities or will address them all this weekend. Teams use the draft for different purposes or prioritize divergent things from how they look from the outside.

Safety

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Bringing Tracy Walker back helped a great deal. However, he’s the only safety on the roster under contract beyond the 2022 season.

DeShon Elliott is a nice bandage for a year–if he can stay healthy. He’s played just 29 games in four seasons, unfortunately. Brady Breeze and C.J. Moore represent the rest of the safety room, presuming Will Harris plays the more utility DB role Dan Campbell discussed for Harris in the final year of his contract.

For a defense that asks safeties to be playmakers and emphasizes all-around ability from the position, the Lions are deeply underwater.

EDGE

(AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

The team’s sack leaders from the last two years, Charles Harris (7.5 in 2021) and Romeo Okwara (10.5 in 2020) are back as the current starters. Julian Okwara fits as a sub-package pass rush specialist, too. But the Lions lack a true leader of the pack at EDGE.

Detroit sorely needs a presence at DE/OLB that impacts the opposing offense without having to scheme up pressure to make it happen. Adding a true game-changing talent would put Harris and the Okwara’s in positions where they’re more where they belong on a depth chart.

Wide receiver

(AP Photo/Duane Burleson)

The core signed beyond 2022, namely Amon-Ra St. Brown and Josh Reynolds, is a good base to work with for offensive coordinator Ben Johnson. Adding DJ Chark on a one-year deal helps mollify the need for a downfield threat on the outside, too. But the Lions could use a reliable, consistent outside threat to help stretch the field and also cash in for touchdowns in the red zone.

In an era where 11 personnel (3 WRs) is the base offense for over 60 percent of NFL snaps, the Lions need both impact and depth–especially on a team without a dynamic quarterback.

Linebacker

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Last year’s starters at off-ball LB, Alex Anzalone and Derrick Barnes, are both back. Detroit added free agents Chris Board and Jarrad Davis to the mix, and also brought back promising young Shaun Dion Hamilton, who missed 2021 with injury.

That’s a functional group, especially if Barnes takes a step forward in his second season. Adding a backer with better range and coverage instincts, but also a guy big enough to get off a block or chuck a TE off a route, should be a priority.

Defensive tackle

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The move to a base 4-man front instantly creates an extra DT spot to fill on the depth chart. Now erase Nick Williams, a 17-game starter in 2021, from the equation.

Alim McNeill was a hit as a rookie nose tackle, and John Penisini is a capable backup in heavy packages. Fellow 2021 draftee Levi Onwuzurike and vet Michael Brockers are penciled in as the other tackle. Based on the 2021 performances from that duo, the Lions badly need at least one more long-term piece that can rush the passer without sacrificing run defense.

Slot CB

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A.J. Parker punched above his weight class as an undrafted rookie in 2021, but his limitations showed. The Lions do have quite a bit of young depth at outside CB with Amani Oruwariye, Jeff Okudah, Jerry Jacobs, Mike Hughes and Ifeatu Melifonwi, but none of them have proven they can play inside. Three of them are coming off injury, too.

Tight end

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

As is the case at safety, there is just one Lions TE under contract after 2022: T.J. Hockenson. And he’ll be playing out the fifth-year option in 2023.

Brock Wright, Shane Zylstra and free agent signee Garrett Griffin can hopefully be functional depth, but a better all-around talent is in order. The dropoff when Hockenson went down last season was dire, something that cannot happen again. A player who can also double as a backup fullback should be the consideration.

Quarterback

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Jared Goff will be the starting QB in 2022, that much we know. Beyond that…?

The Lions brought back both Tim Boyle and David Blough to back up Goff, but neither has performed as someone worthy of trust if thrust into extended action.

Offensive tackle

(AP Photo/Rick Osentoski)

Taylor Decker and Penei Sewell make one of the NFL’s best starting tandems and will be so for at least the next three seasons, barring injury. So the starters are set. But the Lions could use a better No. 3 tackle than Matt Nelson or Dan Skipper. A tackle who can also kick inside to guard and perhaps even start at RG after 2022 makes sense.

Running back

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The Lions appear set for 2022 at RB with the top five players from last year all returning. Jamaal Williams, D’Andre Swift, Craig Reynolds, Jermar Jefferson and Godwin Igwebuike all flashed real ability when given chances behind the team’s strong offensive line. There’s no real room on the roster to add another RB who would be a game-day active; Jefferson was inactive most weeks despite playing well as a drafted rookie in 2021.

Interior offensive line

(AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski)

The combination of 2021 Pro Bowler Jonah Jackson at right guard, 2020 Pro Bowler Frank Ragnow at center and solid veteran Halapoulivaati Vaitai at left guard might be the best in the league. Fans grumble about Vaitai’s contract but he’s an above-average player and an invaluable presence and mentor for Penei Sewell.

Evan Brown proved himself a legit starting center in Ragnow’s injury absence last year, and he’s back. There is promising young depth too with Tommy Kraemer and Ryan McCollum, plus 2020 fourth-round pick Logan Stenberg.

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