Nothing can excite the fanbase of four struggling franchises like new faces.
Detroit franchises combined for six first-round picks in 2022 drafts. The Lions nabbed Michigan football defensive end Aidan Hutchinson and Alabama wide receiver Jameson Williams. The Pistons selected Purdue guard Jaden Ivey and traded to pick Memphis center Jalen Duren.
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The Red Wings chose Austrian center Marco Kasper, who likely won’t play for Detroit in 2022-23, instead returning to Rögle BK of the Swedish Hockey League. The Tigers added Texas Tech second baseman Jace Jung, who will undoubtedly need some time in the minor leagues.
Each is expected to eventually contribute in some way, but who might be the foremost among them? Barry Sanders, Isiah Thomas, Steve Yzerman and Miguel Cabrera have starred for the city, but which 2022 draft pick will follow in their footsteps as the next big thing in Detroit sports?
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He’s a solid choice to be the next Mr. Detroit Sports, as the rave reviews rolled in during offseason workouts. The 2021 Heisman Trophy runner-up’s makeup of bona fide star and charismatic native son (Dearborn Divine Child) is a big advantage. He also has a chance to start and contribute immediately, giving him a leg up on developmental prospects like Kasper and Jung.
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If there’s a disadvantage, it’s that he’s a defensive player. He won’t bring the explosive downfield catches and tantalizing touchdowns Williams might, or the scoring acumen Ivey portends to have. But maybe his quarterback pressures, tackles for loss and sacks could be ferocious enough for opponents’ nightmares and Detroit’s pride.
Calvin Johnson is the standard for top Lions receiver, giving Williams a tough task in becoming the franchise’s best yet. There are more questions than answers with Williams currently; he has yet to practice for Detroit due to knee injury rehab. However, his college tape was impressive and made the Lions want him bad enough to trade up on draft night.
Williams’ ability to become the next big thing could hinge on the Lions’ receiver room, crowded by Amon-Ra St. Brown and D.J. Chark, among others. Also, Jared Goff may not be the quarterback to make Williams a superstar.
Though not born in Detroit, the city’s sports are in Ivey’s blood. His grandfather was the Lions’ first-round pick in 1976, his father played wide receiver for Birmingham Detroit Country Day and his mother played for the WNBA Detroit Shock in 2005.
Ivey and 2021 No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham could be the Pistons’ best backcourt since Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars in the ’80s and ’90s.The question: Is Ivey the parallel to Thomas, the star of the team, or Dumars, a Hall of Fame part of an ensemble cast? Which one Ivey becomes while playing with Cunningham defines his chances at being Detroit’s next big thing.
Duren does the dirty work on the glass, but isn’t expected to win a scoring title or single/-/handedly carry a team to a championship.
Duren is just 18 years old, leaving him time to potentially grow into Detroit’s next big thing if he can become a scorer that surpasses Ivey and Cunningham. But that’s a tall order for a youngster who might not even start over Isaiah Stewart this season.
Kasper probably won’t be a Red Wing for at least one more season while further honing his craft in Sweden, giving Hutchison, Williams, Ivey and Duren a huge jump start. But, as is the case is for Duren, the 18-year-old Kasper’s youth could be helpful.
Yet, Dylan Larkin is the beloved captain and leading scorer for the Red Wings, and a Waterford Mott High and Michigan Wolverines alum. One day, Larkin’s mantle may be Kasper’s to accept, but will he surpass Calder Trophy winner Mortiz Seider or talented 2020 pick Lucas Raymond to match Yzerman and Gordie Howe among the franchise’s greatest of all time? And if the Wings don’t start winning again, will anyone notice?
It’s pretty obvious the Tigers need more offense, making Jung a great selection. He hit .335 with 14 home runs and 18 doubles last season and was one of the most polished college hitters available. But not every great college hitter finds immediate success in the pros. Just ask Tigers rookie Spencer Torkelson, who is hitting .197 and was demoted Sunday.
Since Riley Greene (.252/.344/.709 with two home runs) debuted on June 18, the Tigers are 14-15; not great but much better than their prior 23-40 record. Jung may not develop fast enough to catch him and seems more likely to complement Greene alongside Torkelson, rather than overshadow him.
Contact Mason Young: MEYoung@freepress.com Follow him on Twitter: @Mason_Young_0.