The Detroit Lions are being seen by a new and brighter light by many in the national spotlight for the way they ended the 2021 season under first-year head coach Dan Campbell.
Winning is always the No. 1 objective, but with higher expectations for improvement over last season's 3-13-1 win-loss record come opportunities for recognition and awards for players.
Making the Pro Bowl is one of those awards. Following is a projection of five Lions players who could make their first Pro Bowl. They represent part of the core of a young and improving team.
1. RUNNING BACK D'ANDRE SWIFT
What he's got: Speed, mobility, vision, hands.
Where he stands: Going into his third season, Swift is a highly skilled player who has not played up to that level on a consistent basis. The talent is there, both as a runner and receiver, and Swift has shown it in flashes.
Stats: 521 yards rushing and eight TDs as a rookie in 2020; 617 yards and five TDs in 2021; 46 catches for 357 yards and two TDs in 2020, 62 catches for 452 yards and two TDs in 2021.
Playmaking: Swift can do it. He has 17 TDs in two seasons, with a long run of 57 yards and a long reception of 63 yards in 2021.
Bottom line: Swift has missed four games in each of his first two seasons. Staying healthy will help pads his stats. So will offensive coordinator Ben Johnson's plan for the offense.
"We're going to be a really good running team," he said during the offseason. "That's going to show up."
View photos of running back D'Andre Swift from the 2022 Detroit Lions offseason training program.
2. CORNERBACK AMANI ORUWARIYE
What he's got: Hands and instinct. He goes after the ball like he's the receiver.
Where he stands: Going into his fourth season, Oruwariye has solidified his status as a starter. He got off to a slow start as a rookie in 2019, playing only nine games with two starts.
He has played 30 games with 29 starts in the last two seasons, and his production has grown.
Stats: He had two interceptions and three passes defended as a rookie, one interception and seven passes defended in 2020 and six interceptions and 11 passes defended in 2021.
Bottom line: Defensive players get attention with stats – interceptions, sacks, quarterback hits. Six picks have gotten Oruwariye noticed.
3. TACKLE PENEI SEWELL
What he's got: He's a natural. He has everything it takes to be a great offensive lineman.
Where he stands: Going into his second season, he excelled as a rookie in circumstances that could not have been much more challenging.
Drafted in the first round out of Oregon, where he played left tackle, Sewell was trained in the offseason and throughout the preseason to play right tackle. An injury to left tackle Taylor Decker before the start of the regular season forced Sewell to switch sides to left tackle. He switched back to right tackle when Decker returned and finished the season there.
Stats: He played and started 16 of the17 games – eight at left tackle and eight at right tackle.
Bottom line: Warning to defensive linemen: A full offseason of training has Sewell feeling better about his game than as a rookie, when he made the All-Rookie team.
4. TACKLE TAYLOR DECKER
What he's got: Reliability. When healthy, Decker is as steady as they come.
Where he stands: A first-round draft pick from Ohio State in 2016, Decker is the senior member of the Lions in terms of service with the team. He's also the senior member of an offensive line that has two Pro Bowl players – center Frank Ragnow and guard Jonah Jackson. Decker is highly respected among his peers.
Stats: Decker has played 80 games, all starts, and all at left tackle. He has two TD catches, on tackle-eligible plays.
Bottom line: Decker's performance in his first six seasons was worthy of making the Pro Bowl. Maybe his seventh season is the lucky charm.
5. DEFENSIVE END AIDAN HUTCHINSON
What he's got: High profile, high expectations.
Where he stands: The Lions drafted Hutchinson second overall out of Michigan because they liked how he played in college. What they saw of him in the offseason program was even better than expected.
He was made a starter from Day 1, and he will remain so either as an edge rusher or moving inside to add quickness and size.
Stats: He doesn't have any yet, but they're coming. However, the fact that he was the runner-up in the Heisman Trophy voting shows how highly regarded he was as a college player.
Bottom line: There will be a lot of attention on Hutchinson. He handled it well at Michigan. He returned for his senior season instead of turning pro because he wanted to lead Michigan to a win over Ohio State.
Mission accomplished on that.
More to come.