It’s hard to keep track of the NFL playoffs when you’re a Detroit Lions fan. Other than following former Lions players, there’s no real emotional attachment to the Division Round games. But there are plenty of good reasons to keep watching closely.
One of them is the ability to check out potential free agents Detroit might be interested in this offseason. The remaining eight teams have a few players who will play in free agency this offseason and could help bolster the Lions’ chances of playing in the divisional round a year from now.
To help contain expectations on pending free agents, there are two criteria here. First, they must be unlikely to get the franchise tag or transition tag from their current teams. Second, no one over 31 at the start of the 2022 season; the Lions are not yet able to maximize these types of players.
Here are eight players, one from each team, to watch in the divisional round of the playoffs with an eye on how they could fit into the Lions in 2022.
Landry broke out in 2021 with a career-high 12 sacks from his standing EDGE spot, and it’s easy to see him having similar success with a team like the Lions. The 25-year-old has improved in running coordination with teammates and clearing blocks in his fourth season in the NFL.
Of all the players listed here, Landry is the most high-end talent. It would cost a lot of money to lure away Tennessee and other suitors. But if the Lions choose to meet the need for an impact pass rusher in free agency instead of the draft, Landry might just be the best option available. This is a former second-round pick whose star is still rising.
When my Lions Wire colleague Max Gerber listed the pending free agents to watch for the wild card weekend, Uzomah made his list. And Uzomah made him look good. He caught six passes for 64 yards and a touchdown in Cincinnati’s win over Las Vegas.
This type of performance is the reason Uzomah makes a repeat appearance. He’s a very capable receiver with good hands and the athleticism to make the first tackle miss. As a blocker, the 29-year-old is solid as a chip-and-release pass protector and good back sealer in the running game. That’s exactly what the Lions demand from their little offensive ends.
Pringle gets lost in the mix of all the receiving talent around him in Kansas City. Yet despite his relative anonymity, Pringle started five games and had 42 passes for more than 550 yards and scored five touchdowns in 2021.
He had a rough road to the NFL but was able to make the most of his luck. Pringle offers good speed, strong hands and positional versatility. At 6-1 and 200 pounds, he’s lined up all over the Chiefs’ roster. In addition, Pringle, 28, is also a very good blocker. He’s the kind of player who could step into a bigger role with another team and no one in Kansas City would be surprised.
The one quality that really stands out about Whitehead is his consistency. A starting safety for the Bucs for the past three seasons (and part of his rookie campaign before that), he’s been remarkably stable in a role that can see big swings. He rarely gets caught out of position and has proven he can work well with a variety of different teammates around him.
Because he’s not a big point guard (five interceptions and two forced fumbles in 59 NFL games), Whitehead probably won’t win big in the free agent market. But his consistent play, sure tackles and reliable coverage down the middle are all things the Lions badly need for their safety.
Burks isn’t a household name but what he does and how much he will cost makes the 26-year-old an interesting potential support for the Lions.
He’s been the primary backup LB for the Packers for the past four seasons, starting off on and off and still solidly involved on special teams. Burks saw his most significant action on defense in 2021 and showed some of the promise that made him a third-round pick in 2018. He has good speed in the open field and can sift through trash well in the racing game.
If the Lions are looking for a veteran economic replacement for Alex Anzalone with untapped advantages, Burks is a very attractive candidate.
Obada is not a full-time player for the Bills. He’s their No. 3 EDGE, their version of how the Lions rolled out Julian Okwara in 2021. But Obada is a productive pass thrower when he hits the field.
The Nigerian native grew up in England and is the first player to come straight to the NFL from a European American football team. In his freshman year at Buffalo, Obada had 3.5 sacks and a PD in 10 games, playing about 30% of the snaps. He had 5.5 sacks for the Panthers in 2020, proving he can do it in more than one place.
Obada is a very athletic long pass specialist who finishes with power and a nice flurry of the ball. The 29-year-old won’t break the bank and will fit in perfectly with the strong Nigerian contingency already established in Detroit.
Key came from three disappointing seasons with the Raiders to thrive as a passing thrower in his first season with the 49ers. A big reason why was the schematic fit; Key plays more of a standing OLB role in San Francisco versus a more confined hand-in-the-earth role with the Raiders.
He pocketed 6.5 sacks in 2021 while playing around 60% defensive reps. Key has never been a great defender on the run, but the 49ers smartly get him to go after the quarterback. He proved he could do it very well. The 25-year-old could also translate that to Aaron Glenn’s Detroit defense.
Jones-Day returns from the injured reserve list this weekend, and it’s a good time to get his starting defensive tackle back. He was quite effective in the “dirty job” role next to Aaron Donald along the Rams line.
Sharp-eyed Lions fans might remember the 26-year-old from the game in Los Angeles this season. He sacked Jared Goff in the game, one of his three for the season. It was the last game he played, but in seven games he had those three sacks and 38 total tackles. He’s a smart, well-rounded DT with three seasons of starting experience after being scouted by Lions general manager Brad Holmes during his tenure as the Rams’ director of scouting.
In case Joseph-Day doesn’t take the field, check out cornerback Darious Williams in the Rams’ game with the Buccaneers.