Detroit Lions awards: We hand out honors in 11 categories for the 2022 season

Detroit News

With the Detroit Lions’ 2022 season in the books, it’s time to hand out our annual awards.

▶ Offensive player of the year: Wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown

With all proper respect due to Jamaal Williams’ 17-touchdown season, this decision came down to St. Brown and quarterback Jared Goff. And while it’s always easiest to go with the quarterback, particularly when they matched the best full-season passer rating in franchise history and ended the year with a streak of 324 consecutive passes without an interception, St. Brown’s consistent high-level production throughout the campaign gives him the slightest of edges.

Despite missing one game, getting knocked from another on the opening drive and being hobbled by a high-ankle sprain in a few more contests, St. Brown finished the season ranking in the top 10 in targets, catches and first-down receptions. His value was magnified on third down, where he hauled in 23 passes that extended a drive, third-most in the NFL. He also continued to situationally chip in as a ball carrier, rushing nine times for another 95 yards.

What set St. Brown apart for us is how the Lions fared when he was hurting. The Lions coughed up a lead and struggled to move the ball in Minnesota after he sprained his ankle in the second quarter, and scored a combined six points against New England and Dallas, when he was hampered by the ankle in one game and knocked out of the other after a blow to the head in the opening quarter.

Honorable mention: Goff, Williams, Penei Sewell

▶ Defensive player of the year: Defensive end Aidan Hutchinson

It wasn’t smooth sailing from the jump for the No. 2 pick in the draft, but as he settled into a groove through the second half of the season, it became increasingly clear he was the team’s top defensive performer.

Through his first five games, Hutchinson had 3.0 sacks, all coming in Detroit’s Week 2 win over Washington. But none of the three was the result of some great individual effort. Instead, he was benefiting from his teammates creating opportunities.

But, things changed as the Lions adjusted his usage and alignment, allowing him to rush more from his preferred two-point stance. That freed him to rack up the pressures and sacks through the second half of the season, pacing the team with both.

On top of the pass-rush production, Hutchinson made notable strides with his discipline playing the run and impressively managed to come down with three interceptions and recover two fumbles, cementing himself as the playmaking building block the Lions hoped they were getting him when they selected him in the first round.

Honorable mention: Alex Anzalone

▶ Special Teams player of the year: Punt returner Kalif Raymond

Already with an established reputation as a solid returner, Raymond took his game to another level in 2022. Although he didn’t officially get enough opportunities to qualify, his 13.2-yard average on punts would have been enough to lead the league. That included the first special-teams touchdown of his career, an early-game, 47-yard effort against his former team, the New York Jets, which played a critical role in that tight victory.

That season-long performance netted Raymond second-team All-Pro honors, but teammate Josh Woods gave him a run for the money in these awards. The veteran linebacker had an outstanding season as a four-core special-teams performer, racking up 14 tackles on the coverage units and serving as one of Raymond’s top blockers on the return unit.

Honorable mention: Woods, Michael Badgley

▶ Offensive rookie of the year: Wide receiver Jameson Williams

Admittedly, this seems a little silly, given Williams only logged 78 offensive snaps once he was cleared to return from his torn ACL. Still, in that limited action, he flashed exactly the type of big-play weapon he’s capable of being. His only catch on the season was a 41-yard touchdown, and he added another 40 yards running a reverse.

Williams should have had two more long touchdown grabs, but Goff underthrew him on one, allowing the defensive back to recover for the breakup, while another, on a flea-flicker, was wiped off the board by a holding penalty.

Williams’ only competition for this honor was tight end James Mitchell, who also saw limited playing time coming back from a torn ACL. Impressively, he caught all 11 balls thrown in his direction, for 113 yards and a touchdown. But, his run blocking, an important component of his position, was wildly underwhelming, leading us to give the nod to Williams.

Honorable mention: Mitchell

▶ Defensive rookie of the year: Hutchinson

The Lions had a ton of excellent rookies on defense, all who would merit being the best in their class another year, but Hutchinson was simply on another level. Still, it’s worth highlighting the contributions of Malcolm Rodriguez, Kerby Joseph and James Houston.

Rodriguez earned a starting job out of training camp and ended up playing more than 600 defensive snaps, racking up 87 tackles, including eight for a loss. Joseph, who stepped in for an injured Tracy Walker early in the year, showed impressive playmaking prowess with four interceptions and two forced fumbles. And Houston didn’t play a ton, slowly growing into a role following his Thanksgiving call-up from the practice squad, but his 8.0 sacks in seven games was a jaw-dropping stretch of production.

Honorable mention: Rodriguez, Joseph, Houston

▶ Assistant coach of the year: Offensive coordinator Ben Johnson

We saw some flashes of what Johnson could contribute to the offense when he took on a bigger role last year, midseason, but no one could be sure how he’d handle coordinating the unit and calling the plays for the first time in his career. As it turns out, he’s pretty good at this whole coaching business.

The Lions’ offense flourished under Johnson’s guidance, finishing in the top five in both points and yards. He navigated the group through some difficult injury issues, losing a starting offensive lineman for the season before Week 1, as well as longer-term issues with key weapons such as DJ Chark and D’Andre Swift.

Johnson also had to overcome the team dealing away former Pro Bowl tight end T.J. Hockenson, sapping nearly all the experience from that position group. But outside of a brief midseason lull, the offense kept trucking along.

And the cherry on top was how well he worked with Goff, helping the quarterback turn in one of the best years of his career. That package of success had Johnson interviewing for multiple head-coaching vacancies.

Honorable mention: Linebackers coach Kelvin Sheppard, Defensive line coach Todd Wash, Safeties coach Brian Duker

▶ Most improved player: Quarterback Jared Goff

It’s admittedly a strange honor to bestow upon a guy who has twice been selected to the Pro Bowl and played in a Super Bowl, but with better weapons around him and a strong bond with Johnson, Goff silenced many critics and reminded people why he was taken with the No. 1 overall pick several years ago.

Goff’s improvements weren’t just year-to-year, but first half to second half of this season. He shrugged off some ugly turnover issues early in the campaign, finishing with his remarkable streak of pass attempts without an interception, which is the fifth-longest run in NFL history. Additionally, he showcased much better deep-ball accuracy down the stretch, particularly his connection with Chark, opening up another dimension to Detroit’s passing attack.

Overall, from 2021, Goff threw 10 more touchdowns, trimmed his interception percentage from 1.6% to a career-low 1.2%, posted his personal-best QBR and raised his passer rating nearly eight points.

Honorable mention: Anzalone, Jeff Okudah, Derrick Barnes

▶ Breakout player: Defensive lineman John Cominsky

Maybe we’re being a little narrow in our definition of this award, but it feels more appropriate to give it to a veteran who comes out of nowhere. Not to dismiss what Houston and Joseph did, wildly exceeding expectations for rookies, but Cominsky went from waiver claim to key contributor.

After barely touching the field in Atlanta last season, Cominsky was scooped off waivers by the Lions and quickly found a home in the defensive line rotation. And it didn’t take long to become evident he was worthy of a bigger share of playing time.

Despite missing three games and playing with a club over a surgically repaired thumb most of the season, Cominsky tallied 30 tackles (five for loss), 4.0 sacks and 44 quarterback pressures, second on the roster to Hutchinson. Not bad for a guy another team gave up on.

Honorable mention: Isaiah Buggs, Houston, Joseph

▶ Biggest disappointment: Cornerback Amani Oruwariye

This one wasn’t close. Oruwariye had been steady through his first three seasons, allowing quarterbacks to complete fewer than 60% of their throws in his direction, all while taking a major step forward as a playmaker with six interceptions in 2021.

Had he been able to come anywhere close to repeating that performance this season, the final one of his rookie contract, he would have been in line for a monster payday. Instead, his play fell off a cliff. Opposing quarterbacks picked on him successfully to start the year, racking up yards or drawing penalties before the Lions finally gave the veteran the hook five games into the season.

He made a couple more appearances as an injury replacement but proved unable to recapture any hints of his past success.

Honorable mention: Charles Harris, Austin Bryant, Ifeatu Melifonwu, Logan Stenberg

▶ Performance of the year: Joseph, Week 9, vs. Green Bay

There were plenty of great performances this season, including several by Goff, as well as Houston’s three-sack showing against Chicago late in the year. But we’re going with Joseph’s coming-out party against Green Bay, when he intercepted Aaron Rodgers twice and broke up another would-be touchdown just shy of the goal line.

Additionally, Joseph added 10 tackles in the 15-9 victory that kick-started Detroit’s 8-2 finish.

Honorable mention: Houston’s three sacks and a forced fumble against Chicago; Hockenson’s career-high 179 yards against Seattle; Goff’s 340 yards and two scores against Jacksonville and 330 yards with three touchdowns against Minnesota; Williams’ career-high 144 yards against Chicago; Swift’s 178 yards from scrimmage with a score in the season opener; Alim McNeill’s 10-pressure, three-TFL outing against the Giants

▶ Play of the year: Brock Wright touchdown against the Jets

It wasn’t a particularly complicated play design, but the timing of the call, paired with the second-year tight end’s execution of a fake block before running a shallow cross into the vacated left flat was perfection.

With an abundance of open field ahead, Wright rumbled and weaved 51 yards for the go-ahead score on the fourth-down call with under two minutes remaining, giving the Lions their sixth win in seventh games and keeping the team’s playoff aspirations alive.

Honorable mention: Hook-and-ladder to create a fourth-and-manageable to end the Packers’ season in the finale; Penei Sewell’s catch out of motion to beat the Vikings; Swift’s fall-down, get-up touchdown catch against Washington; Jameson Williams’ first-catch touchdown; C.J. Moore’s fake-punt conversion against Minnesota

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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