Detroit Lions sophomore class must step it up in 2020

T.J. Hockenson, Detroit Lions (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
T.J. Hockenson, Detroit Lions (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images) /

The Detroit Lions’ 2019 draft class had mixed results in their first season. But a strong sophomore campaign would certainly help this team bounce back.

Fresh off yet another NFL draft, the Detroit Lions are riding high off the potential of some of their newest players. Rookies like cornerback Jeff Okudah, running back D’Andre Swift, defensive end Julian Okwara, and guard Jonah Jackson are easy to get excited about.

But for the Lions’ previous draft class, the bloom is certainly off the rose. We were all similarly excited about Detroit’s set of 2019 rookies. But following a disappointing 3-12-1 season, their impact was less than ideal. Still, a strong sophomore campaign from this bunch could catapult the Lions from divisional basement dwellers to NFC North contenders.

And that resurgence really starts at the top. The Lions made tight end T.J. Hockenson their first-round selection in 2019, selecting the Iowa product eighth overall.

After a historic debut that saw him record six receptions for 131 yards and a touchdown in Week One against the Arizona Cardinals, Hockenson all but disappeared from the offense for the rest of the year. He’d end up recording just 32 receptions for 367 yards and two scores, starting in seven of his 12 games, landing on Injured Reserve with an ankle injury in early December.

Of this class, second-round linebacker Jahlani Tavai turned in the best overall rookie performance. Racking up 58 total tackles, five tackles for loss, and 2.0 sacks, Tavai was a regular contributor for the defense who played 15 games, starting in six. Not bad for a player many believed the Lions overreached for with the 43rd overall selection.

The surprising midseason trade of team captain Quandre Diggs seemed to open the door for third-round safety Will Harris to take the starting role alongside Tracy Walker. But Harris struggled as a rookie, recording a lowly 55.3 overall grade from Pro Football Focus in 2019. He posted 43 combined tackles and three pass deflections in 2019.

Fourth-round defensive end Austin Bryant returned from a torn pectoral muscle to play just four games last season, recording eight total tackles. Fifth-round cornerback Amani Oruwariye flashed potential at the end of last year, recording two interceptions.

Running back Ty Johnson, who was selected in the sixth round, rushed for 273 yards and averaged 4.3 yard per carry as a backup. Sixth-round wide receiver Travis Fulgham spent most of last season on the practice squad.

Seventh-round tight end/fullback Isaac Nauta was promoted off the practice squad in late November and posted two catches for 13 yards and a touchdown in six games. He was the team’s primary lead blocker during that late-season stretch.

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In all, the Detroit Lions’ 2019 draft class largely underperformed during their rookie campaign in Motown. A strong contribution in their second season could elevate the Lions in a pivotal year where owner Martha Firestone Ford has set the expectation of being playoff contenders.