As the Lions creep into the playoff picture, there’s reason for optimism in Detroit, both for 2022 and beyond.
The ability to score touchdowns is a great skill to have in football. Detroit Lions running back Jamaal Williams has that particular skill.
Williams ran for 64 yards and three touchdowns in Detroit‘s 31-18 win over the New York Giants on Sunday, bringing the Lions into the periphery of the playoff picture. The 27-year-old now has 12 rushing TDs on the season, leading the NFL among TDs from all non-quarterbacks.
Williams’ total includes five multiple-rushing-touchdown games in Detroit’s first 10. He’s the fourth player to achieve this feat since 2000, and the first to do it since 2006.
“He’s our horse,” Lions QB Jared Goff said of Williams. “Anytime we get down there, tight in the red zone, it feels automatic with him at times. As a quarterback, sometimes you want to throw them in, but Jamaal is automatic.”
The Lions have some important building blocks in place, including Williams. Defensive end Aidan Hutchinson, the second pick in April’s NFL Draft, recorded an interception and recovered a fumble in the win over New York. He’s also the first player since San Diego’s Leslie O’Neal to record five sacks and two interceptions in his first 10 career games.
Amon-Ra St. Brown is 23 years old and was a fourth-round pick in 2021. His 56 receptions is 10th in the NFL despite him not having a ton of fanfare coming out of USC. Penei Sewell, the seventh-overall pick in 2021, is tied for the ninth-best run blocker among offensive linemen, per Pro Football Focus’ grades. The Lions have also had strong performances on the offensive line from center Frank Ragnow, guards Evan Brown and Jonah Jackson, and tackle Taylor Decker. They’ve helped the Lions score 25 points per game, good for eighth in the NFL.
The problem is that Detroit’s defense is last in the league, surrendering 28.2 points per contest. Cornerbacks Jeff Okudah, the third overall pick in 2020, and Will Harris have above average PFF grades. As do safeties Kerby Joseph and DeShon Elliott. But the Lions allow the fifth-most passing yards per game and the second-most rushing yards per contest. Only Hutchinson and defensive lineman Alim McNeil have above average PFF grades.
Of the names listed so far, only Williams, Brown, Harris, Elliott, and Moore are free agents after the season. According to Spotrac, Detroit will have the 11th-most cap space when free agency begins in March, in addition to a bevy of high draft picks. As the Los Angeles Rams struggle this season, the Lions have their first-round pick in 2023 thanks to the Matthew Stafford trade — which could be in the top 5-10 — and the Minnesota Vikings‘ second-rounder thanks to this year’s T.J. Hockenson trade.
Despite the three-game winning streak, the Lions have a steep hill to climb to make the playoffs. They’re +590 to make the postseason heading into Thursday’s traditional Thanksgiving day showdown at home against the Super Bowl favorite Buffalo Bills. Whether the Detroit Lions get in this season or not, it has pieces moving forward, two premium picks in 2023, and maybe some tangible hope for the first time in a while.
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