The Divisional Round of the 2023 NFL Playoffs wraps up on Sunday with two games, one from each conference. First up is an AFC matchup between the Cincinnati Bengals at Buffalo Bills on CBS and it will be followed by an NFC battle between the Dallas Cowboys at the San Francisco 49ers on FOX.
In this article series, we will sort through the pending free agents of the playoff teams on the schedule today and pick out one from each team that the Detroit Lions should be watching.
If you missed any of the previous installments in this series, be sure you check out the potential 2023 free agents on our watchlists from Saturday, Sunday, and Monday’s Super Wild Card matchups, as well as Saturday’s Divisional Round.
Here’s who to keep an eye on during Sunday’s games:
Samaje Perine, RB, Bengals
If the Lions are unable to re-sign Jamaal Williams, they will be in the market for an RB2 with power at the forefront of his game.
Perine has settled in nicely as the Bengals' RB2 and is capable of contributing in several ways. At 5-foot-11, 235 pounds, he has the ability to be a hammer in the run game. His highlight reel is littered with plays of him stiff-arming defenders to the ground. He’s also a capable pass catcher out of the backfield and has improved his skills as a pass protector.
Perine isn’t going to take over games—in 2022, he had just three games where he rushed for over 50 yards and just one that went over 100 yards—but he is capable of spot starting and won’t break the bank with his contract. According to Spotrac’s Market Value projection model, Perine will likely command a one-year, $3 million contract as a free agent.
Devin Singletary, RB, Bills
If the Lions opt to spend at running back—or even if they want a frame of reference in order to establish Jamaal Williams’ value in this year’s free agency class—they’ll need to do their homework on Singletary. According to Spotrac’s Market Value projection model, Singletary is estimated to draw a three-year, $16.8 million ($5.6 million per year average) contract.
Singletary is a consistent producer, averaging 4.7 yards per carry over four seasons, and while he has been the primary back in Buffalo since halfway through his rookie season, he has never been the type of back to take over games. Instead, his game is built on efficiency, where he can be the established starter in a backfield that leans on multiple backs. This season has arguably been Singletary’s most complete, yet he has seen some of his snaps pushed over to the electric rookie James Cook. Still, at the end of the day, when the game is on the line, the Bills turn to Singletary when it matters.
If the Lions are looking for a complementary back for D’Andre Swift (who is in the final year of his rookie contract), Singletary could help lighten his load, while also giving Detroit a potentially explosive back if Swift is injured. Adding a player like Singletary would also give the Lions some stability for the future, as no running backs are signed beyond 2023.
Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Cowboys
I hesitate to add Vander Esch to this watch list because of his injury history, but the Lions will need to keep their eyes out for veteran linebacker depth, especially if Alex Anzalone departs in free agency.
Vander Esch (6-foot-4, 256 pounds) will only turn 26 years old in February, but he has played in 66 NFL games with 18 missed due to injury. He stormed onto the scene as a rookie, registering 140 tackles, two interceptions, and seven pass deflections in 2018 but has struggled to stay healthy and consistent since. He re-signed with the Cowboys on a one-year prove-it deal this past offseason, and while his play rebounded substantially, he still ended up missing games late in the season due to a shoulder injury.
DAL has a bit of a miscommunication defending the trips bunch (Wilson/Mukuamu both go with 84) but Leighton Vander Esch put on his cape to defend 2 TB WRs before the PBU.— John Owning (@JohnOwning) January 17, 2023
The fact that LVE picked up Godwin but then fell off to defend Julio is incredible awareness #Cowboys pic.twitter.com/hyuDPM8VpB
Overall, Vander Esch is a veteran linebacker capable of starting and contributing in several ways on defense but has an injury history that precludes teams from being able to count on him to finish a season healthy. Still, for a team like the Lions who are young at the position he could be an option at the right price.
Daniel Brunskill, OL, 49ers
A former college tight end, Brunskill moved to right tackle as a senior at San Diego State, added 30 pounds, and began learning the offensive line. After two years on the Falcons practice squad, Brunskill joined the 49ers and has contributed to the active roster all four years he has been in San Francisco.
Impressively, Brunskill became a valuable player on the offensive line, taking meaningful snaps at all five (!) offensive line positions. He was their starting right guard during the 2020 and 2021 seasons but was considered more of a valuable depth piece than a starter in 2022.
49ers RG Daniel Brunskill had an incredibly impressive game in Week 6 vs. Aaron Donald. One of the better games you'll find from a guard against the best player in the league at his position (last clip is just a nice rep in the run game) pic.twitter.com/LSGTUuB9ft— Brandon Thorn (@BrandonThornNFL) October 21, 2020
With Evan Brown a free agent, and some potential concerns with the reserves along the line, adding a positional versatile player like Brunskill—who can fill in as a spot starter at all five positions—would help strengthen the Lions’ depth.