Lions' Rookies in Line for Larger Roles

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
Logan Lamorandier

It's to the point of the NFL season where injuries are piling up and the reserves are forced into action. 

For the Lions, most of the beneficiaries of players going down have been rookies.

It's great to see younger guys step in and show potential for the future. 

To be clear, just because a rookie is seeing more game day reps, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are a good player. 

It’s from necessity that they are getting increased snaps, and they are simply the next man up.

In Week 12 against the Redskins, the Lions' active roster was filled with first-year players.

Let’s take a look at how they performed: 

RB Ty Johnson

Johnson started the year as the third running back in the rotation. Since second-year free agent Bo Scarbrough burst on the scene, Johnson has continued to be no more than the second option at best in the pecking order. With four carries and 11 yards against the Redskins, it was a very modest day for him.

TE T.J. Hockenson

Hockenson has been playing plenty all year. He did see a decrease in his normal snaps, and was held catchless on two targets in Week 12, though. A shoulder injury had him questionable to play, and may have been the culprit for a lighter workload. Not the kind of output you would hope for the No. 8 overall selection in the 2019 draft. However, at least there have been glimpses of high-end talent. Remember, tight ends do typically take time to develop.

TE Isaac Nauta

Nauta was promoted off the practice squad, and saw eight offensive snaps in his NFL debut Sunday -- all on run plays. With no targets and minimal exposure, it was easy to miss Nauta. He did, however, line up in the backfield on multiple occasions, and could probably be labeled more as an H-back now that starting fullback Nick Bawden is on injured reserve. Nauta was used plenty on special teams, too. Overall, he didn't stand out positively or negatively.

OL Beau Benzschawel

Benzschawel was active, but was the only dressed lineman who didn’t see any snaps. Even with the Lions' consistent use of a guard rotation, Benzschawel is still clearly the last offensive guard on the depth chart. As an undrafted free agent pickup this past offseason, expectations can't be incredibly high. At this point, he is a project.

EDGE Austin Bryant

After Bryant was activated from injured reserve last week, he proceeded to play in 16 defensive snaps against the Redskins. With defensive end Trey Flowers out due to a concussion, Bryant was allowed to get his feet wet right away. In 14 of the 16 defensive snaps he played, he rushed the passer. He accumulated one quarterback hit on the day, and that's about it.

LB Jahlani Tavai

Tavai has been playing meaningful snaps for a majority of the year. Surprisingly, he had his lowest snap count since Week 4, in Sunday's contest against the Redskins. Fellow linebacker Jarrad Davis has been playing better in recent weeks, and that could have something to do with why Tavai was used more sparingly. In his limited snaps, he had two tackles -- both near the line of scrimmage.

CB Amani Oruwariye

Oruwariye had a great performance in his first game with meaningful playing time. Starting cornerback Rashaan Melvin was out with a ribs injury, and it was the rookie who stepped in. Oruwariye had a nice undercutting interception, and was the highest-graded Lions defender in Week 12, per Pro Football Focus. If Oruwariye keeps it up, he may continue to receive significant snaps, even when Melvin is healthy again.

S Will Harris

Harris continues to play every defensive snap. No Quandre Diggs or Tracy Walker will do that. It was a quiet day for the starter. On the year, he is not only getting burned and missing tackles, but he also hasn't made many impact plays that Lions fans have been accustomed to at the safety position.

S C.J. Moore

Moore has been on the roster all year. On rare occasions, he will see some defensive snaps, but his main role will continue to be on special teams unless forced into action.

CB Michael Jackson

Jackson was active for the first time in his NFL career in Week 12. The Lions poached Jackson off of the Cowboys' practice squad a few weeks back He, however, only played two special teams snaps in his debut.

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