Detroit Lions second-year studs could lead resurgence in 2021
Last off season, the Detroit Lions had a rare opportunity ahead of them at the same time. With general manager Bob Quinn and head coach Matt Patricia hoping to save their jobs in their third season together, getting a huge hit in the 2020 NFL Draft was of the utmost importance.
Due to a bad outing in 2019 in which starting quarterback Matthew Stafford was lost for eight games to a back injury, he became the third overall selection in the draft with the Lions record of 3-12-1 (and the subsequent high picks in the following Round). It was the tallest Detroit had designed in a decade.
Quinn, Patricia, and the company set about adding talent to their list via the draft. Unfortunately, the unforeseen introduction of a global pandemic made the off-season training program virtual, resulted in the cancellation of all preseason games and disrupted the development of the Lions rookie class.
As a result, the Lions would fire both Quinn and Patricia by the end of November, Detroit would end the season on a disappointing 5:11 record, and the Motor City was back in the basement of the NFC North Division for the third time a year.
During that off-season, the Lions installed a new regime led by General Manager Brad Holmes and Head Coach Dan Campbell. Detroit also swapped its quarterback at Stafford, all under the guise of retooling the team. But ironically, it is the design class chosen by the previous Detroit regime last year that could actually lead the Motown resurgence.
The 2020 Lions drafting class included cornerback Jeff Okudah, D’Andre Swift, Julian Okwara, offensive guard Jonah Jackson, Logan Stenberg, Quintez Cephus, and John Penisini. All of them could play a significant role for Detroit in their second season.
As the third overall selection last year, Okudah is expected to be a talent of the generation in the cornerback position. And after a rocky rookie season, the 22-year-old was able to recover quickly under a new coaching staff.
Swift is already able to take on the full-time starting role running backwards. Okwara has the potential to become an elite pass rusher if he can stay healthy. Jackson was a 16-game starter as a rookie. Cephus is one of the few recipients who doesn’t have a free agency this off-season. And Penisini was a 12 game starter despite being picked in the sixth round.
In addition to the normal barriers to adapting to playing at the NFL level as rookies, this group also had to grapple with the effects of Covid-19. Still, many of them managed to make an impact in their first season. In their sophomore year and with another off-season training program, this group could easily be one of the main reasons the Detroit Lions bounced back in 2021.