I read a recent Yahoo article about what NFL players it expects to see make a leap in performance in 2023. QB Trey Lance, RB Breece Hall, WR Chris Olave, WR Garrett Wilson, and WR Drake London were their picks. I think these players have room for more upside, but I think they missed a bigger story about our Lions. Here are the players I hope to see, and expect to see take a big step forward in 2023:
WR - Jameson Williams - He will have a full off-season and pre-season to build a rapport with Jared Goff and I am looking for a break-out season for him as a result. 60 receptions, 1000 yards, and at least 6 TDs I think should be expected.
TE - James Mitchell - He too will have a full off-season and pre-season to build a rapport with Jared Goff and I am looking for him to establish himself as at least a 50% snaps player on offense. Although the TE's responsibilities involve blocking as well as receiving, I think he will compliment Brock Wright's play with around 35 receptions, 500 yards, and perhaps about 5 TDs as he establishes himself as a starting caliber NFL TE.
DE/OLB - James Houston - I think he was growing as the season progressed and although some might think he's already shown his potential, I'm of the belief that there is still more in the tank. He showed he could be a solid 3 down player with both run support, coverage skills, and rushing ability. With Malcom Rodriguez suddenly the Lions have a pair of good to very good young linebackers.
DE - John Cominsky - He is another player that seemed to exceed expectations for last season, but I think he is primed for an even bigger role in 2023. It seemed like he made everyone play better around him so I think he will stake a serious claim to a sizeable share of the big defensive end snaps.
DL - Josh Paschal - He too will have a full off-season and pre-season to develop and begin to demonstrate his prowess on the defensive line. Although he likely will compete with Cominsky for big DE snaps I expect him to play inside more and become the interior rushing force the Lions are looking for.
CB - Jeffrey Okudah - We saw him become a leading force on the outside earlier in the year but he seemed to struggle a bit at times over the tail end of the season. Whether it was due to wearing down or some form of injury I think we haven't yet seen the best from Okudah and will in 2023.
S - Kerby Joseph - Another rookie that seemed to be a star at times for the Lions, but his consistency didn't seem quite what it might have been. I think he will take a big stride forward in his efficiency and overall impact in 2023 and become a full-time regular on defense.
RT - Penei Sewell - There's not much more that Sewell may be able to do to take a jump in performance, but I expect him to do so to become an elite, if not the elite right tackle in football. It would help if he had a more stable running partner on the right side, and I hope that this proves to be the case. Still, I think that in terms of what he does for the offense, he will become recognized as a dominant force in the NFL.
LB - Alex Anzalone - The final quarter of the season saw Anzalone become all that anyone could have hoped for. What if he starts to prove he can perform at that same level week in and week out? I know there is prejudice against a player that hasn't made the Pro Bowl by age 27 but I think the improvement he has shown and could show over an entire season just might make he get into the Pro Bowl after his 2023 season.
That's nine (9) players I expect to do much, much better in 2023 than they performed in 2022, despite in several cases already performing quite well. I've singled them out as making a leap, rather than simply progressing to be better or to continue performing at a elite level. I feel it might be a slight to not mention the players that I think are already at that high level whether they are recognized in the league as being so or not. Let me list them:
QB Jared Goff - I think he will continue to be as good as he was in 2022 and earn another Pro Bowl invitation.
RB Jamaal Williams - It would be hard to top the year he had in 2022 but I'm hopeful that he is the consistent and reliable presence the Lions have been able to turn to for production.
WR Amon-Ra St. Brown - Can he be even better? He may be able to stretch the field more, but what seems most important is his great ability to consistently gain some separation and make contested catches in bunches over the season.
LOT - Taylor Decker - I hope that he has an injury free season that will allow him to demonstrate how tremendously talented he is, and perhaps not be numbed by playing in pain so much of the year.
OC - Frank Ragnow - I also hope he too might have more of an injury free season that might somehow elevate his game to an even higher plane, but at least allow him to enjoy the season more by being without as much pain.
LOG - Jonah Jackson - I would love to see that entire offensive line stay healthy and show that as a unit they aren't just one of the best, but perhaps the very best in the NFL.
3DT - Alim McNeill - Mac/Twinkle Toes is so highly thought of already, but for some reason he just hasn't gained a lot of notoriety. Perhaps he hasn't gotten the sacks or pressures that would put him into that elusive category of premier interior linemen yet, but maybe 2023 will be the year.
RDE - Aidan Hutchinson - Can a near DROY be even better than he was? I think there is room to be even better if the defense as a unit is better. Being a 30th ranked group doesn't allow it's players to be quite as widely recognized or appreciated as they might be. I think Hutch can be an elite player, but needs the entire unit to also take a step up.
NT - Isaiah Buggs - Did he do the best he can do? I think he showed that he can dominate at times and I wonder if it is just a window on what he might become? Perhaps having a full off season to prepare and train for the role he will have might make a difference. Perhaps the Lions only need more depth rather than another starter.
There are another nine (9) players I think playing at an exceptionally good level that could even be better in 2023. That's not to say that the rest of the roster will fall off. I hope that 2023 produces surprises and simply a progression for some players to have a very good year from where they were at in 2022. The list of players that I fully expect to do so covers essentially every player on the team - both the 53 man roster and its practice squad. In short, I expect the Lions to be more consistent and more successful in 2023.