One of the inevitabilities of a draft cycle is that there are current players who will lose their jobs to the new additions. For the Detroit Lions in 2022, the draft class and free agency work from GM Brad Holmes and his crew have set up several holdover players to be fighting for their Lions lives.
The improved overall roster comes at a cost for the players at the bottom of the roster, or those who might not fit with the new scheme or regime. Here are five such players who will have to show a lot more in 2022 to remain in Detroit.
OL Logan Stenberg
(AP Photo / Al Goldis)
Lions fans can be forgiven for forgetting that Stenberg is still on the team. In two seasons since being a fourth-round pick out of Kentucky in 2020, Stenberg has played exactly four snaps on the offensive line and 26 more on special teams.
The Lions didn’t import anyone in the draft, but two holdover rookie free agents from a year ago appear to have leapt Stenberg on the depth chart in 2021. Tommy Kraemer and Ryan McCollum both got nods over Stenberg during last season. The team smartly brought back top interior OL reserve Evan Brown.
Add in two promising undrafted rookies in Obinna Eze and Kevin Jarvis, plus freshly signed tryout player Zein Obeid, and there are a lot of viable options for usurping Stenberg on the roster. His unimpressive play in training camps and preseason has not helped his case, and this is not the regime that drafted Stenberg into Detroit. His past draft status won’t help him in 2022; Stenberg will have to earn his spot quickly in camp.
EDGE Julian Okwara
(AP Photo / Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Okwara is coming off his second NFL season, a year in which he bagged five sacks in 13 games. Okwara also forced a fumble, recovered another and broke up two passes. His rookie campaign as a third-rounder from Notre Dame in 2020 was an injury washout.
Okwara has defined pass-rushing potential, there is no doubt. His potential issue for the Lions is that the scheme changed away from its optimal usage. Okwara is a stand-up outside linebacker type of EDGE. Now that the Lions are using more of a 4-man base line, Okwara isn’t as strong of a fit. His struggles in run defense and playing more in tighter quarters are now magnified.
The Lions added Aidan Hutchinson with the No. 2 overall pick, but he’s primarily replacing Trey Flowers in the Lions lineup. However, bringing back veteran Charles Harris and drafting both Josh Paschal (second round) and James Houston (sixth round) presents a direct challenge to Okwara’s reps, as does a healthy return from Julian’s older brother, Romeo. Austin Bryant could also factor into the mix, too.
They’re all different styles of player, but the most similar are Okwara and Houston, and the rookie has the benefit of some experience playing off-ball backer in his college time at Florida. It could come down to a battle on special teams, and again Houston might have a real advantage there, too. As is the case with Stenberg, this isn’t the front office regime that drafted Okwara and doesn’t have the investment into making it work out.
TE Brock Wright
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Wright stepped up last season when the team faced a massive shortage at tight end. As an undrafted rookie out of Notre Dame, Wright proved to be the top receiving option at TE when Pro Bowler TJ Hockenson was lost for the season with injury.
What was good enough in 2021 might not make the cut in 2022, however. Wright caught 12 passes in 10 games, but the production was paltry; his line vs. the Falcons in Week 16: 3 receptions for 4 yards. The blocking that Dan Campbell called out in training camp as needing to improve never progressed to more than passable, either.
Hockenson should be healthy in 2022. The Lions added a blocking TE in Garrett Griffin to handle that role, and they drafted James Mitchell to offer a more dynamic receiving threat. Wright finds himself exactly where he was a year ago – trying to find a way to make the team. He did show enough as a receiver and high-effort player that nobody should overlook his chances. Wright can make it once again, but the competition is a lot tougher in 2022.
RB Godwin Igwebuike
Igwebuike made the team in 2021 by switching from safety to running back, a shrewd move for a guy who starred with the ball in his hands in high school. It will take more than that for Igwebuike to stick in 2022.
The Lions are weirdly deep at running back. D’Andre Swift, Jamaal Williams and Jermar Jefferson are all back and healthy. Craig Reynolds earned a two-year contract for his impressive showing, too. Having four capable RBs is a luxury for Detroit – and a problem for No. 5 on the list.
That’s Igwebuike, who fumbled away chances at more opportunities in 2021. Fumbling twice in 25 offensive touches is not a way to endear yourself to coaches. Igwebuike’s best chance to stick is as a return specialist, where he was capable but not exceptional last year. He figures to be in a battle with WRs Calif Raymond and Tom Kennedy and perhaps reserve CB Mark Gilbert for that role in 2022. Raymond’s return in free agency was bad news for Igwebuike (and Kennedy).
WR Quintez Cephus
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There is no position where the Lions have upgraded in the last 12 months more than wide receiver. Cephus’ status is a great example.
Cephus started three of the first five games in 2021 and was one of Jared Goff’s top targets in those games. He caught 15 passes for 204 yards and two TDs before injuring his shoulder and being lost for the season.
He comes back to a very different offense. Amon-Ra St. Brown emerged late in the season, especially after Josh Reynolds joined the team. Both are back. Signing free agent DJ Chark and drafting speedster Jameson Williams immediately interjected those two above Cephus on the depth chart at outside WR. The upgrades mean Cephus returns as no more than the No. 5 receiver.
Here’s the problem for the big 2020 fifth-rounder from Wisconsin: reserves need to make an impact on special teams. That’s not something Cephus has shown he can do in the NFL. Meanwhile, he’s competing for a roster spot with Kalif Raymond, Tom Kennedy, Trinity Benson and even undrafted rookie Kalil Pimpleton. All of those players offer more on special teams than Cephus, who also happens to be the slowest afoot of that group on a team that has made getting faster a major priority.