American Football

2022 Detroit Lions awards: Breakout Player of the Year


NFL: DEC 18 Lions at Jets
Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Vote for the Detroit Lions’ 2022 Breakout Player of the Year below.

Starting today, we’re kicking off a 10-part series celebrating the best moments and performances of the Detroit Lions’ 2022 season with our Pride of Detroit Awards. While the Lions just barely missed out on the playoffs, it still felt like a special season for the franchise. Their 8-2 stretch to finish the season not only offered some of the best Lions football we’ve ever seen, but it gave fans real proof that this thing may finally be headed in the right direction.

For these awards, our staff will make individual cases for their picks and nominations, but you—the commenters—will have final say in the winner in the poll at the end of the article.

Our first award for the 2022 season is Breakout Player of the Year. Here are our nominations:

John Whiticar

Malcolm Rodriguez

I have to give the nod to the rookie sixth-round linebacker. Wait, I have to specify because the Lions had two breakout rookie sixth-round linebackers. My pick for Breakout Player of the Year is Malcolm Rodriguez. While James Houston exploded onto the scene, Rodriguez gets my vote because he was a starter from Day 1—you don’t expect that from a sixth rounder. Not only was he a starter, but he was good to boot; he earned his spot. Rodriguez went from Hard Knocks star to an on-field star.

Hamza Baccouche

Kerby Joseph

Hard to go with anyone but Kerby Joseph this year, except maybe James Houston. Since everyone else is probably choosing Houston, I’m going to go with Joseph. His season was the definition of breakout. He wasn’t expected to start this year, and when he did, it wasn’t by choice of the coaching staff, it was by necessity. Even then, we were quickly reminded why he wasn’t supposed to start, as it was ugggly to begin. Somehow, we went from that to a (damn right I’ll say it) borderline elite safety making Ed Reed-esque plays against one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.

Ryan Mathews

James Houston

The expectations for a sixth-round rookie aren’t exactly high to begin with, but when Houston failed to make the 53-man roster initially, it seemed like the learning curve was going to be steep for the Jackson State standout. Instead, Houston made his way back to the active roster for the Thanksgiving Day game against the Buffalo Bills and never looked back. Eight sacks in seven games, the most any NFL player has ever recorded through their first seven games.

Morgan Cannon

Penei Sewell

In my opinion, Sewell should have been second-team All-Pro at right tackle behind the Philadelphia Eagles’ Lane Johnson, but he will have plenty of years to accomplish that in the near-future. After a promising rookie season that had him switching between left and right tackle due to injuries along the offensive line, Sewell settled in at right tackle in 2022, and quickly became one of the best at the position. Oh, and he will still only be 22 years old by the time the 2023 season kicks off. Let that sink in.

Erik Schlitt

James Houston

Following the 2022 NFL Draft, James Houston looked like he had the potential to be one of the most exciting players in this class with his pass rushing skills and desire to play off-the-ball. But by the time training camp arrived, it was clear Houston had a lot to learn and it wasn’t long before the team started scaling back his responsibilities.

Entering the regular season, it looked like Houston’s rookie year would be used for developmental purposes. But injuries at edge rusher opened the door on Thanksgiving and Houston exploded onto the scene. Seven games and eight sacks later, Houston proved he is a player that teams will have to account for in the future.

“Credit to him that he was able to go out there and do what he’s been doing in practice and not let the pressure of the stage get to him,” Lions left tackle Taylor Decker told POD. “I’m happy for him, man. He’s been working all year and to see his growth and his progress from training camp to where he is now, it’s incredible.”

Jeremy Reisman

Kalif Raymond

Personally, I don’t really count rookies in this category, seeing as they’re just starting their careers. Although I certainly get the argument for someone like sixth-round pick James Houston winning this award.

To me, a “breakout” player is someone who has given you mediocre performances in the past and suddenly becomes a big contributor. Last year, when the Lions decided to re-sign Raymond to a two-year deal, here were some of the reactions in our comment section:

“Meh. I get that it’s not a lot of money and he’s not terrible but it seems like we’ve spent our cap space and brought in nothing new.”

“After a 3 1/2 win season , Lions are doing their best to keep that team together.”

“There will most likely be 10 or more WRs who will be camp cuts who are better and cheaper than Mr. Raymond. No disrespect to the man.”

Raymond responded with a career year, posting 616 receiving yards—second most on the team. Oh, and he also was named second-team All Pro as a punt returner, averaging an impressive 13.2 yards per return (second-highest in the league).

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