Detroit Lions 2021 NFL Season Superlatives
With the season over, it’s time to hand out some rewards.
Although the Detroit Lions finished the season with a meager 3-13-1, there were indeed some positives and strong performances worth celebrating.
For that reason, here are the SI All Lions superlatives of the 2021 season.
Offensive Player of the Year: Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR
Stats: 90 catches, 912 yards, six touchdowns
Although his start to the season was quiet, St. Brown produced a stellar finish that created immense optimism heading into 2022.
The USC rookie finished his season by setting the Lions record for single-season receiving yards by a rookie. With injuries depleting the receiving corps, St. Brown has emerged as a solid and reliable option for quarterback Jared Goff.
He is the “Offensive Player of the Year” due to his impact late in the season. There were certainly other options, but St. Brown never missed a game and became the first rookie receiver in NFL history to have at least eight catches in six straight games.
Finalists: RB D’Andre Swift, Goff, TE TJ Hockenson
Defensive Player of the Year: Amani Oruwariye, BC
Stats: 57 tackles, six interceptions, one fumble recovery
Needing everything they could get from their secondary, the Lions must be happy with what they got from their third-year corner at Oruwariye.
As the season went on, Oruwariye proved to be one of the best young corners from a pass coverage perspective, managing six assists before his season ended prematurely due to injury.
The Penn State product is expected to enter 2022 as Detroit’s top corner and will be a big part of opposing game plans. It will be interesting to see how teams attack him, knowing his skills.
Finalists: LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin, S Tracy Walker III, LB Alex Anzalone
Rookie of the Year: St. Brown
An obvious choice, St. Brown wins this award by running away with her performance. However, he wasn’t the only rookie to perform admirably in his first season.
Offensive tackle Penei Sewell, selected seventh overall in 2021, also had a strong season in his freshman year at Detroit.
Sewell became one of the best rookie tackles in the league. He played both right and left due to injuries on the offensive line. However, he struggled at times and was penalized on occasion.
St. Brown’s offensive impact earns him the award over his rookie counterpart.
Finalists: Sewell, DT Alim McNeill, CB Ifetu Melifonwu
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Most improved player: LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin
Stats: 82 tackles, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery
After primarily performing special teams duties in his first four seasons, Reeves-Maybin gained playing time as the season progressed due to his efforts. He became a mainstay in the Detroit linebacking corps.
In two separate situations, the Tennessee product forced fumbles that won the Lions games late in the fourth quarter. Neither game resulted in a win, but the fifth-year godfather’s playmaking ability gave his team a chance.
Reeves-Maybin started his first game in Week 5, serving as the starter until the end of the season. He became the defensive caller for the Lions, following Alex Anzalone’s season-ending injury in Week 15, and has shown plenty of ability in that role.
He should be a free agent. Thus, the Lions will have a decision to make this offseason regarding his future.
Finalists: C Evan Brown, Goff, DE Julian Okwara
Assistant Coach of the Year: Tight Ends Coach Ben Johnson
Johnson started the year as the team’s tight ends coach, but ended it in a much bigger role. When head coach Dan Campbell took over call-in duties in Week 10, Johnson began overseeing the passing game aspects of the team.
Late in the season, the Lions offense began to rack up yards, ending the season with a 404 yard performance in a win over Green Bay. Campbell credited Johnson with some areas of improvement within the offense, particularly in the passing game.
With offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn fired after one season, conversations began about the possibility of Johnson taking his place. How he would fare over an entire season is intriguing, but his performance at the end of the year deserves a mention in conversation.
Defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn finished a close second.
The freshman coordinator performed admirably with the talent he had, but the defense was gassed unanswered in blistering losses to Philadelphia, Cincinnati and Seattle.
Finalists: Glenn, AHC/RBs coach Duce Staley, OL coach Hank Fraley
Moment of the year: Goff leads winning campaign to end winless streak
Winless heading into a Week 13 game with the Vikings, the Lions looked to climb out of the basement at home. A quick start gave the team a 20-6 lead before halftime.
Yet that lead quickly evaporated when Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins rallied his troops. Two fourth-quarter touchdown passes from the former Michigan State Spartans QB gave the Vikings a 27-23 lead, with 1:50 to go.
Facing an uphill battle, Goff and the Lions marched on the field relentlessly. He hit Godwin Igwebuike for 13 yards to convert on a third-and-10, followed by Hockenson for 10 yards on a third-and-6.
After a spike, a short completion and an incompletion, the Lions faced a fourth down, with the game on the line. Goff and company were unfazed, as the quarterback hit St. Brown for an 11-yard touchdown, when time expired, to give the Lions their first win of the season.
The score, which was the first of St. Brown’s career, sent Ford Field into a frenzy. Campbell and Goff hugged, as the players rushed onto the pitch in celebration. It was a euphoric moment, as Detroit and its fans celebrated a long-awaited moment.
Runners-up: Arizona Beatdown, win over Green Bay, trickery vs. Los Angeles