Every season is a make-or-break season for many players on the Lions’ roster, but it is especially the case for three players in particular.
All three have traveled different roads to get to this point, but here we are and nothing has happened overnight.
As Bill Parcells liked to say, “Two years in the NFL is a lifetime." And, for all three of the following players, it’s either going on two years, or has been longer.
1.) Quarterback Jared Goff
Goff has been on an icy-and-slippery downward slope since losing the Super Bowl to the Patriots back when he played for the Rams.
Something happened on Goff’s timeline that offseason, and he has never been the same.
The numbers further illustrate this point.
In each of the following seasons, his average number of yards per completion dropped.
2019: 7.4 yards
2020: 7.2 yards
2021: 6.6 yards
Why is that so significant?
It is especially significant for Goff, because in his Super Bowl season (2018), he averaged 8.4 yards per completion.
In that same campaign, Goff aggressively and confidently drove the ball downfield. Every season since, levels of both have steadily been on the decline.
Rams head coach Sean McVay was the first to notice the start of this alarming trend. He knew he had a Super Bowl roster, with a QB who was on the decline.
McVay responded by ironically trading Goff to Detroit for Matthew Stafford, and won the Super Bowl by upgrading the position.
It was obvious to anyone who watched the Lions last season that Goff looked like two different players as his confidence and performance went up and down.
Goff is going to have to dig deep and successfully drive the ball vertically this season, or he will probably be looked at more as a backup somewhere else.
2.) Cornerback Jeff Okudah
Hopes were high back on April 23, 2020.
That was the day the Lions sent the draft card in, and at No. 3 overall, selected Okudah.
Okudah had a rough rookie season. According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), he finished 117th out of 124 qualified cornerbacks, with an overall grade of 41.8.
The following season, things got worse.
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Okudah went down in Week 1, against the San Francisco 49ers, with a torn Achilles.
Now, he must try to shake off both setbacks and regain his old form in college that made him a top pick.
Even if his body cooperates, the even bigger challenge will be finding a way to mentally bounce back.
If the shaky rookie performance wasn’t enough to rock his confidence level, the injury and threat of re-injury will probably be weighing on his mind on every single snap.
Okudah will be considered one of the finalists for the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year award, if he is able to pull off the feat.
Otherwise, he might be out of the league.
3.) Defensive back Will Harris
I’ve been trying my hardest to push Harris out of Detroit since the summer of 2020.
He has consistently shown himself to be tentative, reluctant and hesitant as a safety. Those three words have proven to be the kiss of death for the Lions’ secondary and its ranking.
2020: Ranked No. 31
2021: Ranked No. 23
The Lions’ records those two seasons were 5-11 and 3-13-1, respectively.
In today’s pass-happy NFL, there is just no way possible to be competitive with these kind of secondary rankings, and Harris played a role in this equation.
To exemplify this even further, here is Harris’ snap count from the past two seasons.
I am not the only one who sees Harris as part of the problem, either.
PFF pointed out that in 2021, he was targeted 65 times (second most), and gave up 48 receptions (also second most).
Detroit’s opponents were licking their chops when they saw Harris on the field.
Harris earned PFF’s second-worst coverage grade of any safety in the NFL last season.
He was moved to cornerback for the first time in December, allowing four catches on six targets (24 yards) against Arizona. And, PFF gave him a coverage grade of 71.7.
Might Harris, who says he will “do whatever he’s asked," fare better at corner going forward?
I'm not sure, but there's no question that he's going to have to.