Why NFL personnel mentioned just 3 Detroit Lions among league’s elite

Detroit Free Press

The strength of the Detroit Lions’ roster has been questioned by ESPN’s recently completed 2022 position rankings.

For the third straight year, ESPN’s lists weren’t a typical media poll. They surveyed over 50 NFL executives, coaches, scouts and players to compare the top-10 players at 11 positions.

But only one Lions star cracked a positional top 10, meaning those around the league don’t believe Detroit has an elite player. None of the Lions’ offensive linemen, a position group seen as the team’s strength, was highly regarded by survey participants, either.

Lions tight end T.J. Hockenson was ranked No. 7 at his position for the 2022 season on Thursday, falling two spots from his No. 5 ranking in 2021. Hockenson received a similar review to last year, when he was tabbed as “a little vanilla,” by an AFC scout.

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“He has some explosion in the passing game, and he’s a competitive blocker,” an NFC executive said. “As far as all-around tight ends go, he’s really good. Not flashy.”

Hockenson made 61 catches for 583 yards and four touchdowns last season despite playing in the league’s 25th scoring offense. He also ranked sixth among tight ends with a 44.4% reception rate on tight-window throws, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.

Hockenson is playing on his fifth-year option this season, but general manager Brad Holmes says the Lions are interested in extending him. Hockenson seemingly reciprocates the desire to remain in Detroit.

Meanwhile, the Lions’ offensive line has been touted as one of the league’s most talented, but it appears few people ESPN surveyed feels that way. Center Frank Ragnow and tackle Penei Sewell were 2022 honorable mentions by ESPN, while tackle Taylor Decker was arguably snubbed off the lists entirely.

Ragnow was ESPN’s No. 4 interior lineman and best center last year, but dropped for 2022 after missing 13 games with a toe injury that required surgery.

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“You can do just about anything with him as an offense,” an NFC scout said. “He can run the show up front, and he’s athletic and versatile to get on the move and play in space.”

Sewell, ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler noted, was challenged by the rookie transition to right tackle after he played left tackle at Oregon. He ranked 54th in pass-block win rate, whiffed on 10 run-block attempts and surrendered 10 sacks.

However, there’s still optimism he could be better in the long run than Los Angeles Chargers second-year tackle Rashawn Slater, who ESPN ranked No. 4 following his superb rookie season.

“There was good performance in there; it wasn’t a lost year for them,” an NFL personnel director said of Sewell. “He had a higher ceiling for me than Slater. Slater you knew would be good. Sewell is a bit more boom or bust, but he could be a Hall of Famer.”

The Lions begin training camp July 30, gearing up for a season in which they’ll either challenge or verify their doubters.

Contact Mason Young: MEYoung@freepress.com Follow him on Twitter: @Mason_Young_0

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