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MMQB - Which Position Group Will Improve the Most in 2022?

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Always look on the bright side of life

Penn State v Maryland Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

We’re still nearly 2 months away from the Blue-White game, and 6 months away from the start of the 2022 season, but by golly, we’re ready for some football.

The 2021 season had its ups and downs, with the high point being a 17-3 advantage over Iowa midway through the second quarter. We don’t want to talk about the low point(s). Some units performed quite well (hello secondary!), while others... eh not so much.

As we look ahead to the 2022 season, which position group do you think will improve the most from their 2021 campaign?

Linebackers

I actually thought the LBs were mostly fine in 2021, but given the starpower at the position, I just expected more. Brandon Smith was always around the ball it seemed, but never seemed able to finish a play off. Ellis Brooks made a huge jump from 2020, but if a play got past him, was typically done.

The 2022 depth chart on paper looks less star-studded. Curtis Jacobs is back, and will easily be the best-rated backer the Lions have. Around him, former high-three-star players such as Tyler Elsdon, Charlie Katshir, Jamari Buddin, and Kobe King will all vie for playing time. Personally, I think the Lions have recruited quite well at the position, and there is a ton of athleticism at LB. Given that the linebackers were so-so in 2021, I expect to see a bump in productivity in 2022, even with slightly less flash.

Running Backs

I don’t believe that the RBs in 2021 were necessarily to blame for their lackluster production. Sure, it would have been nice for someone to take the reins and establish themselves as the true bell cow of the group. But when the OL isn’t blocking well, there isn’t much that you can do.

Keyvone Lee and Devyn Ford both return next year, with Lee expected to be RB1 out the gate. Lee looks best when he’s asked to make a single cut and then plow downfield, and despite some improvements from 2020, he still appears to be more thunder than lightning. The wildcard will be Nick Singleton.

Singleton, according to scouts, is a mix of Saquan Barkley, Barry Sanders, and Walter Payton. As such, he should be RB1-RB4, right? Well, my worry is a) expecting way too much out of a 5-star recruit as a true freshman (only to be disappointed), and b) rushing them ahead into the gameplan only for them to struggle. If Singleton is as good as advertised, I expect he’ll take a Saquon-esque route, wherein he slowly eats into RB1’s carries, eventually earning the starting gig, and not looking back.

Offensive Line

I know, I know. Insert Lucy-holding-the-football meme here. But dang it, I’m ready to be hurt again.

The offensive line was... not great last year. Another new offensive coordinator, another new scheme, and the personnel on hand just did not ever really figure it out. Rasheed Walker, Eric Wilson, and Mike Miranda have all moved on, leaving room for players like Olu Fashanu, Landon Tengwall, and Saleem Wormley. On paper, that seems almost a wash in terms of recruiting star power, but perhaps it’s the positions that make the most impact.

Fashanu should, in my opinion, be almost a wash when compared with how well Walker performed at LT. I thought Rasheed was mostly fine, but never truly shut down the left side of the OL. I’d wager Fashanu can essentially replace that production. Inside, Miranda and Wilson were okay, but I never watched the interior OL and was wowed by their production. I expect Tengwall to be a much different animal inside, and the LG-C-RG combo of Tengwall-Juice Scruggs-Wormley appears to be a nice upgrade of size and physicality.

Furthermore, this will be the first time since the 2018/2019 seasons that the team has had the same offensive coordinator-offensive line coach combo for back-to-back seasons. Phrased another way - the last time the redshirt seniors on the OL (Scruggs and Bryce Effner) had continuity between OC/OL for back-to-back seasons, they were true freshmen, and then redshirt freshmen. Call me crazy, but that much coaching turnover has to be bad for an offense.

Between a change in personnel, and continuity on the coaching staff, I expect the OL to make a big step forward in 2022. Enough to be considered a strength?

Well, in the immortal words of Charlie Brown - “AAUGH!”