The 3-13-1 record for the Detroit Lions mars a rather positive end to an otherwise bleak season. Detroit spent yet another season looking outside of the playoffs after only a few games and was the last team in the NFL to obtain a win. Yet, this off-season arrives with a different narrative. Specifically, a narrative of hope built around the success of several players who built a foundation for successful careers. Without further negativity or mention of the record, here are the Detroit Lions 2021 Season Team Awards.
Detroit Lions 2021 Season Team Awards
Most Valuable Player: Jared Goff, Quarterback
Despite Jared Goff missing a handful of games this year, he closed the season on a high note with a win over Green Bay. In the other two wins of the season, over Arizona and Minnesota, Goff helped organise and keep the team cohesive. The award for the Lions MVP is not necessarily about the numbers, or the long-term future, but about what he did to put the Lions in winning position and keep team moral high. For all the real criticisms legitimately leveraged at Goff, he is an eager learner and leader; and that was critical to the success of the 2021 Lions. Whatever else happens, Goff helped lay the basis for the future in 2021.
Goff from a statistical window finished 17th for Passer Rating (91.5), 16th in Yards per game (231.8) and 11th in completion percentage (67.2). He also kept interceptions rather low (eight on the season or 1.6 percent of attempts, sixth best). Expectations for the future will be higher, but Goff achieved the goals for year one of the Campbell era.
Offensive Player of the Year: Amon-Ra St. Brown, Wide Receiver
Amon-Ra St. Brown was definably electric in the home stretch of the season. While he did not top 1,000 yards receiving due to a slow start first few weeks, he collected the most receiving yards in Detroit history (912 yards). While his numbers only speak for so second-half of the season production, St. Brown undoubtedly will have a fantastic future in Detroit. He rarely drops a pass, spins away from tacklers, is deceptive in the open-field, and simply outruns defenders. He is an exciting talent and gives Detroit the best hope for a definitive all-start offensive player.
Defensive Player of the Year: Charles Harris, Edge
Coming off the edge, Charles Harris led Detroit in sacks (7.5), Quarterback hits (16), Tackles for Loss (10) and tied Jalen Reeves-Maybin with two forced fumbles. Harris also fits into the most improved player of the year category. However, he edges out for Detroit’s DPOY as he accomplished that stat-line as the sole reason of force on a rather anaemic Detroit defense, wholly bereft of purpose in rushing the passer. Harris is a powerful defender and the NFL ought to recognise him as such in coming seasons.
Harris played 2021 on a one-year, $1.75 million contract, meaning Detroit will need to resign the former first-round pick to a longer and larger deal. The defensive scheme and coaching seemingly unlocked his potential, and such a deal is entirely worth keeping the basis for a foundation in the rebuild. If Harris stays healthy, he found a fit in a Detroit scheme that (hopefully) will improve as Detroit acquires other pass rushers.
Comeback Player of the Year: Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Linebacker
Jalen Reeves-Maybin comeback also almost fits into a most improved category. Yet he is also a comeback player of the year for his ability to fight mid-season injuries to still have his best season of football in his must-perform year. He doubled his tackles over his previous best season (37 in 2019; 82 in 2021) while playing 62 percent of snaps. Moreover, he also finished the last three of the games by playing every single defensive snap; his production did not drop. The highlights of his season came in defending two passes against the Arizona Cardinals in the Week 15 upset, and stripping a fumble with sheer strength in the 17-19 Week 5 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Penei Sewell, Offensive Tackle
Penei Sewell dominated not one, but two offensive line positions so thoroughly that Pro-Football Focus gave him the highest run blocking grade of a rookie tackle since 2009. The Pro-Football Writers Association (PFWA) also named him to their all-rookie team. Sewell is a phenomenal athlete and the embodiment of the prototypical, lean and destructive linemen of a faster NFL. As the Lions assemble their team and construct an improved and consistent running game, Sewell will serve as the corner of such an offensive line.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Alim McNeill, Nose Tackle
The Lions selected North Carolina State nose tackle Alim McNeill in the third round, pick 72. He proceeded to start six games, play all 17, and land two sacks amidst 39 tackles. To conclude the season, he made Pro Football Focus’ all-rookie team, joining offensive tackle Sewell as the two Lions with this honour. Number 54 is deceptively fast for his size yet can play the nose tackle position in the classical sense of a run-stuffer. He even stuffed the quarterback for two sacks, despite playing a mere 38 percent of defensive snaps. McNeill fulfils a cornerstone to the future of the Detroit Lions defense, providing the sense that the Lions can control the line of scrimmage.
Most Improved Player: Amani Oruwariye, Cornerback
In his first two seasons, Amani Oruwariye did not display productivity. He was merely a cornerback decent enough to stay on the complacent Lions roster. Then in 2021, he took off, stealing six interceptions (third in the NFL) and 11 passes defended (tied-ninth). Unfortunately, he ended the season having surgery for a broken thumb.
Although his season ended with surgery, he displayed some electric defense, including an athletic leaping-interception in the victory over the Cardinals. Oruwariye took an extra step this season and, once recovered from surgery, can provide a game-changer in the Lions backfield. Most promising, he is not only in the right position; rather, he moves to the right position in improbable ways that will change games.