As we move closer and closer to 2022 Detroit Lions training camp, we’re going to start taking a closer look at the team’s roster. With 90 players currently signed on (until John Penisini’s retirement is official), there are a ton of storylines to examine.
So today we kick off our roster preview series. In it, we will take a closer look at individual players on the roster. We’ll revisit how they performed last season compared to expectations, and then detail the outlook for their chances to make the roster and, if they make it, what sort of expectations we should have for on-field production.
Today, we kick off the series with one of the under-the-radar success stories from 2021: running back Godwin Igwebuike.
Expectations heading into 2021
Igwebuike was signed to the Lions as a future signing last January. To say that signing barely made a blip on the radar would be an understatement. He was out of the NFL for all of the 2019 regular season and was taken in the 2020 XFL Supplemental Draft. He played for the Seattle Dragons for a few weeks before the league folded after just five games.
Of course, this is skipping over the fact that Igwebuike has played safety since 2012—his high school years.
He was signed as a defensive back initially in Detroit, but by midway through offseason workouts, the Lions shifted him to running back, a position he hadn’t played in almost a decade.
Even with the switch, Igwebuike was a long shot to make the roster. Not only had the Lions signed Jamaal Williams to complement starter D’Andre Swift, but they had drafted Jermar Jefferson in the seventh round. Even late addition Craig Reynolds was showing out in the preseason, giving Igwebuike tough competition.
Actual role in 2021
2021 statistics: 17 games (1 start): 18 carries, 118 yards (6.6 YPC), 1 TD, 2 fumbles lost; 7 catches, 60 yards; 28 kick returns, 697 yards (24.9 avg)
- 66.6 we offend (DNQ)
- 71.8 on special teams (81st out of 218 special teamers)
Despite the long odds, Igwebuike made the 53-man roster thanks, in part, to his ability as the team’s primary kick returner. While Igwebuike was not an explosive returner (his longest was 47 yards), he finished with an average of 24.9 yards per kick return, which ranked fourth in the NFL among returners with at least five attempts. It’s also worth noting that Igwebuike was a four-phase special teamers, providing assistance in kick and punt coverage and return units—logging seven tackles in the process.
The Lions didn’t rely on Igwebuike as a running back until late in the season. He got his first offensive touches late in a blowout loss to the Eagles in Week 8. When the injury bug hit the Lions’ backfield, he finally got a bigger offensive role. In the month of December, Igwebuike carried the ball 12 times, but for just 33 yards and two fumbles.
The highlight of his season came a few weeks earlier against the Pittsburgh Steelers, when Igwebuike took one of his two touches for a 42-yard touchdown—the first of his career.
However, the late struggles had Craig Reynolds repping ahead of him on offense. Still, Igwebuike remained an integral part of the Lions’ special teams units.
Outlook for 2022
The Lions’ running back room remains relatively unchanged from last year. They didn’t lose anyone from the roster, and the only addition was undrafted rookie Greg Bell. That leaves a pretty intense battle for the one or two roster spots behind Williams and Swift. Jefferson struggled in his rookie year, but there could always be a Year 2 jump for him. Reynolds turned out to be a decent preseason find and even turned in a 100-yard performance against the Cardinals.
But Igwebuike has a huge advantage over both when it comes to special teams. Here’s a look at special teams snaps for the Lions last year:
That being said, the Lions roster is getting better, and there will be more competition on special teams, too. Igwebuike is the incumbent at kick returner, but he will not be handed the job.
In other words, he’ll have to improve on offense this offseason and prove it in training camp. With the fumbles and poor production to end the season, he’s likely got a sour taste in his mouth and will look to correct those errors in the upcoming preseason.