Detroit Lions general manager Brad Holmes has done a nice job reshaping the Lions roster with a mix of young and veteran talent. The Lions had the NFL's youngest roster in 2022, and that bodes well for the future of this franchise.
Detroit had a number of rookies and second-year players who made key contributions last year, especially on defense, where rookies Aidan Hutchinson, Josh Paschal, James Houston, Malcolm Rodriguez and Kerby Joseph combined to create a rookie-high 92 total quarterback pressures. The 20.5 sacks by Lions rookies in 2022 set an NFL record.
Here is my list of five players under 25 Lions fans should be excited about:
1. Tackle Penei Sewell, 22 years old
It's wild to think Sewell is entering his third season in the NFL at just 22 years old and is already a Pro Bowl player. He was the first Lions tackle to make the Pro Bowl since Lomas Brown in 1995.
Sewell was the fifth highest graded right tackle in the league by Pro Football Focus last season after allowing just two sacks all year in 17 games played. He is arguably pound for pound the Lions' best athlete on the roster and he's on his way to being a perennial Pro Bowl and All Pro player for the next decade or more.
2. Wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, 23 years old
St. Brown entered the league with a chip on his shoulder after being the 17th receiver taken in the 2021 NFL Draft, and all he's done the last two seasons is ascend into one of the best all-around receivers in the game.
He's coming off his first Pro Bowl nod in 2022 as the first receiver in Lions history to make the Pro Bowl within his first two seasons. Through 33 career contests St. Brown ranks first in franchise history in receptions (196) and eight-plus reception games (11) and second in receiving yards (2,073).
His 196 receptions through his first two seasons is tied for the NFL record through a player's first two seasons. He also owns the NFL record with six straight games with at least eight receptions and a touchdown.
3. Defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson, 22 years old
The No. 2 overall pick last year had himself one heck of a rookie season that has Lions fans and the NFL excited to see what he has in store for the encore in 2023. He was NFL Rookie of the Month twice last year and was the runner-up for Defensive Rookie of the Year after ranking first among all rookies in sacks (9.5), total pressures (53) and quarterback hurries (38). He's the first rookie in league history to produce a season with 9.5 sacks and at least three interceptions.
"I feel stronger than ever," Hutchinson said this offseason with a chance now to focus on football and not draft prep. "I feel more mobile than ever. I really think just having an offseason to take my time and focus on some of my body deficiencies has helped me a ton. I can't wait."
Neither can Lions fans.
4. Linebacker James Houston, 24 years old
It was a small sample size for Houston in 2022 but there was no denying the results when he was given an opportunity to expand his role in Detroit's defense the second half of the season. He started his career with a sack in each of his first four games played. His 8.0 sacks finished third in franchise history for a rookie season despite only playing in seven games. He also had seven tackles for loss, which was fifth most among rookies.
"I remember asking (offensive line coach) Hank (Fraley) a month ago, 'Why isn't this guy playing?' Because there would be a couple times here and there where he'd beat me and it's not like one of those where I'm taking the play off or made a mistake, he really got me," veteran left tackle Taylor Decker told detroitlions.com back in early December about Houston.
Decker said Houston's ability to bend and not lose speed is elite among NFL edge rushers.
"You don't see a lot of guys like that," he said. "He's got that natural bend. I feel that's something you either have, or you don't."
Houston is expected to take on a much bigger role in 2023 as one of Detroit's promising young edge rushers.
View photos of the Detroit Lions' alternate helmet.
5. Safety Kerby Joseph, 22 years old
In his rookie season, Joseph recorded 74 tackles (53 solo), eight passes defended, four interceptions, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and a quarterback hit. He is only the third rookie in NFL history since at least 1999 to total four interceptions, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.
From Weeks 7-9, Joseph forced a turnover in three straight contests. Two of those turnovers were interceptions of former Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers in Week 9. Joseph would intercept Rodgers one more time in Week 18 to become the first player in NFL history to record three interceptions of Rodgers in the regular season.
Getting veteran safety Tracy Walker back from an Achilles injury and the signing of veteran defensive back C.J. Gardner-Johnson should allow Joseph to be even more of a playmaker in Detroit's defense in 2023.