Detroit Lions stock watch: Aidan Hutchinson making case for Defensive Rookie of the Year

Detroit Free Press

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Free Press sports writer Dave Birkett breaks down the Detroit Lions‘ 31-18 win over the New York Giants and looks at players and coaches who helped and hurt their stock Sunday at MetLife Stadium:

Stock up

DL Aidan Hutchinson: New York Jets cornerback Sauce Gardner is still the favorite for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, but Hutchinson is hot on his heels after another head-turning performance Sunday. Hutchinson made an impressively athletic interception in the second quarter that turned momentum the Lions’ way. He also recovered a fumble in the fourth quarter, and now has 5.5 sacks and two picks on the season. Gardner will be tough to beat for the award, given he is playing on a better team and in a bigger media market. But Hutchinson keeps delivering highlight plays for the Lions’ improving defense.

DL Alim McNeill: McNeill was dominant Sunday, and it started on the game’s first series when he pressured Giants quarterback Daniel Jones on back-to-back plays. The second-year defensive tackle finished with four tackles, three for loss, one sack, three quarterback hits and was a key part of a Lions run defense that held Saquon Barkley to a season-low 22 yards. McNeill has been mildly disappointing season, given expectations coming into the year, but on Sunday he finally made the type of splash plays the Lions have been waiting for.

RB Jamaal Williams: After Williams lost a fumble on the goal line in a Week 7 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, he spent the week apologizing to coaches for his mistake. He has scored six touchdowns in the four games since and leads the NFL with 12 rushing touchdowns this season. Williams ran for three touchdowns and 64 yards on 17 carries Sunday. Once considered a complementary piece to D’Andre Swift in the backfield, Williams has emerged as the Lions’ best and most reliable back and is playing himself into a contract extension.

DL John Cominsky: Cominsky made a spot start Sunday in place of the injured Josh Paschal and was another key cog in the defensive effort against Barkley. He had three tackles, two for loss, a sack at the end of the first half and blocked the Giants’ first extra point attempt. Claimed off waivers from the Atlanta Falcons this spring, Cominsky has found a home on the Lions’ defensive line for what should be a few years to come.

Stock down

WR DJ Chark: Chark had no discernable impact in his return to the lineup Sunday after a six-game absence with soreness in his surgically-repaired ankle. Chark played mostly in a blocking and decoy role, and was targeted once on a deep pass in the fourth quarter when he was well-covered by two Giants defensive backs. Sunday’s conditions weren’t conducive to throwing and Chark did not play a full complement of snaps, but the Lions need more out of their top free agent signing if they’re going to make a playoff push.

Lions pass defense: The Lions lost top cornerback Jeff Okudah to a brain injury Sunday after he collided with teammate Will Harris in the first half. Okudah is not expected to play against the Buffalo Bills on Thanksgiving. That’s a tough loss for both Okudah and the Lions. Okudah has had a nice season in his return from a torn Achilles, but has already missed 23 games in his short NFL career. For the Lions, they’ll be without their best cornerback against one of the NFL’s most high-powered offenses.

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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