Detroit Lions 2021 season review: 5 reasons to think the future is bright

Lions finish 2021 season with 3 wins and a tie

DETROIT, MICHIGAN - JANUARY 09: Head coach Dan Campbell of the Detroit Lions looks on during the first half against the Green Bay Packers at Ford Field on January 09, 2022 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images) (NIC ANTAYA, 2022 Getty Images)

DETROIT – The 2021 Detroit Lions season is over, and it wasn’t great. But that doesn’t mean we can’t hope for better things.

There was plenty to hate with the Lions in 2021. They won just three games, and even put us through perhaps the worst football game of the year vs. the Steelers, which ended in a tie. (I still have nightmares about that one)

But even in the pile of debris that is the Lions 2021 record, a few glimmers of hope for the future shine through, and darn it, I’m running toward the light. Someone stop me!

🔒 Devin Scillian: Why I’m oddly hopeful about the Lions

Here are some reasons to be hopeful for the future of the Lions:

Offensive line has arrived

The Lions ran the ball pretty effectively this season. Read that again. And then read it again. Can you believe it yet?

The Lions finished 19th in total rushing yards with 1,886 and 110.9 yards per game, the highest since the 2013 season. They were 30th in 2020, 21st in 2019 and 23rd in 2018. It’s an improvement.

They also finished 10th in the NFL in road rushing yards per game, with 131.4 per game. You have to love that.

It’s all thanks, in part, to the offensive line. Yes, pass protection could have been better, and Jared Goff could get rid of the ball quicker, but the run blocking was a massive improvement.

The Lions ranked 12th in lowest sack percentage in 2021, with 5.72% of plays ending in a sack. They were about middle of the pack in pressures allowed and tackles for a loss allowed. One big thing to clean up for next year -- penalties. The Lions O-line accounted for the 3rd most flags in the league with 39.

But the Lions have their offensive line for the future. Taylor Decker, Jonah Jackson, Frank Ragnow, Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Penei Sewell, with some decent depth, should be in place for a while.

The 1st Holmes draft class

The first draft class for Lions general manager Brad Holmes looks pretty promising. Here’s a look at the top half of the 2021 class:

  • Round 1, Pick 7 -- Oregon OL Penei Sewell.
  • Round 2, Pick 41 -- Washington DT Levi Onwuzurike.
  • Round 3, Pick 72 -- North Carolina State DT Alim McNeill.
  • Round 3, Pick 101 -- Syracuse CB Ifeatu Melifonwu.
  • Round 4, Pick 112 -- USC WR Amon-Ra St. Brown
  • Round 4, Pick 113 -- Purdue LB Derrick Barnes

All six of these players showed some promise this year, especially Sewell and St. Brown, and will likely be part of the future plans for Detroit. How often could we say that? We haven’t had much success with drafting, well, ever, so this is a positive sign.

Along with some of the free agents Holmes brought in, like Jerry Jacobs, Charles Harris and others, it feels like Holmes has a great eye for talent -- and a great eye for who fits in on this team. That’s an exciting prospect, pun intended.

Amon-Ra St. Brown

Speaking of hitting on the draft, rookie wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown -- a fourth round STEAL -- had perhaps the best rookie season we’ve seen for the Lions in a long, long time.

St. Brown started off a bit slow, he seemed uninvolved in the offense early on, but really became a focal point after a couple of injuries and roster changes.

On Sunday, St. Brown passed Roy Williams, setting the franchise record for receiving yards by a rookie. Brown caught eight passes for 109 yards and a touchdown Sunday to finish with 90 receptions for 912 yards and six total touchdowns on the year.

DETROIT, MICHIGAN - DECEMBER 19: Amon-Ra St. Brown #14 of the Detroit Lions celebrates in the first half against the Arizona Cardinals at Ford Field on December 19, 2021 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images) (2021 Getty Images)

Dan Campbell loves him and it’s now clear to all of us why: “When you’re the athlete he is, explosive, but then you’re tough and you’re competitive, it’s just the way you’re made up and he’s smart. And those guys are hard to find that are all-encompassing like that, so, I’m glad we’ve got him, and he proved again. The consistency is there, that’s for dang sure.”

St. Brown is fifth in rookie receiving yards -- the other four were drafted in the first round. That’s value!

Dan Campbell is a draw

Say what you want about head coach Dan Campbell. His first season wasn’t perfect. He made a lot of mistakes. But his players love him, and that’s refreshing following the Matt Patricia era.

The Lions played hard in every game this season and that’s a big credit to Campbell and the coaching staff.

It’s that sort of attitude that can get the most out of players -- and to draw free agents to the team. The NFL is no longer about strict, old-school coaches, it’s all about development, analytics and culture.

Campbell can build off of plenty this year, and if he decides to keep play-calling duties in 2022, he’ll have a nice sample size to improve from.

Aaron Glenn kept the defense competitive

Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn came over from the Saints to join Dan Campbell in Detroit, and it paid off for both sides.

Glenn kept a defense full of no-name players, rookies and free agents together and playing well for most of the year. The defensive stats are a bit skewed due to a handful of blowouts this year, but in most games, the defense kept the Lions in the game.

DETROIT, MICHIGAN - NOVEMBER 25: Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn talks with Dean Marlowe #31 during the fourth quarter of the game against the Chicago Bears at Ford Field on November 25, 2021 in Detroit, Michigan. Chicago Bears defeated the Detroit Lions16-14. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images) (2021 Leon Halip)

One area the Lions need to improve on is getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The Lions ranked 30th in sacks this season, and a top-2 pick with two defensive end prospects at the top should help them, as well as players returning from injury.

Bonus: We found a kicker!

Could it be that our very short-lived nightmare of revolving kickers has ended? Maybe!

Rookie kicker Riley Patterson took the helm for Detroit about seven weeks ago and he’s been stellar, missing just one kick in seven games.

The Lions have had luck with kickers, historically speaking, between Jason Hanson, Eddie Murray and Matt Prater, the last few decades were pretty solid. Maybe Patterson is next.

2022 Lions opponents

We don’t know the dates and times, but here’s who the Lions will face in 2022:

HOME: Chicago, Green Bay, Minnesota, Buffalo, Jacksonville, Miami, Philadelphia, Seattle, Washington

AWAY: Chicago, Green Bay, Minnesota, Carolina, Dallas, New England, New York Giants, New York Jets

The Lions have the No. 2 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, so stay tuned! They also have the Rams first round pick, so we’ll see where it lands. Either way, Detroit should have three picks in the top 34.


SPEAK ON IT: What do you think about the future of the Lions? Is it bright, or is it just the same old Lions? Let me know in the comments.


About the Author:

Ken Haddad is the digital special projects manager for WDIV / ClickOnDetroit.com. He also authors the Morning Report Newsletter and various other newsletters. He's been with WDIV since 2013.