What an offseason it has been for the Detroit Lions. Maybe it’s more appropriate to say what a past six months it’s been. Back at the end of October, this team was 1-6. Since that moment, the Lions have been on an unprecedented ascension for this franchise.
They’ve taken multiple steps along the way. They became a team that showed they can go out and beat winning teams at home and on the road. Then they showed that they could get over their biggest demons when they beat the Green Bay Packers on the road in prime time. After that, it was retaining players. Then they reached the level where coveted free agents want to play in Detroit for maybe the first time ever.
Then in the NFL Draft, they showed with their picks that they believe that they’re a team that is ready to compete right now. It’s not about just winning the North, the Lions are ready to compete for the big prizes. The Super Bowl window is open for the Lions. Can they fit themselves through that window? We’ll see. Here are a few reasons why I think they can now.
The Lions had one of the league's best offenses in 2022. They went out and improved that offense drastically this offseason. They swapped Jamaal Williams for a younger and arguably better player in David Montgomery and then moved on from the oft-injured D’Andre Swift after drafting the speedy Jahmyr Gibbs from Alabama.
On Thursday night, Lions general manager Brad Holmes talked about how the Lions don’t see Gibbs as just a running back in Detroit. When you see that Gibbs led Alabama in receptions in 2022, you can see why Holmes feels that way. Gibbs unlocks something in the Lions' offense that wasn't there before. They now have a positionless offensive weapon that can be an elite contributor in the same vein as a player like Deebo Samuel or Alvin Kamara. He can and will be everywhere on the offense.
At tight end, the Lions get a lot stronger with a player who can do a lot more than just catch and block. Sam LaPorta is YAC tight end that has the ability to both run over and juke defenders. Pairing him with James Mitchell gives the Lions the ability to line up with two tight ends and utilize both in the passing game and not lose out on any blocking while doing it.
Then there’s Hendon Hooker. I’ll be upfront, I wasn’t sold on this pick initially. I’m actually still a little hesitant to allow myself to be sold, but I get what the Lions are doing. They’re a successful team that’s looking for a backup quarterback who can help keep them competitive if Jared Goff gets hurt. If that’s the goal, they got the best guy for it. The problem I have is that it seems like there’s no future for this pick outside of being a guy that comes off the bench. Maybe someday he’ll turn himself into the Lions quarterback of the future. Right now, he’s just the backup quarterback of the future. Again, the Lions scored big here if that’s their goal.
Lastly, the Lions grabbed an offensive lineman in Colby Sorsdal that allows them to work with Graham Glasgow and Halapoulivaati Vaitai while they mentor him and show him the ropes in the NFL. If he’s a fast learner, he’s depth at both tackle and guard—potentially even a future starter.
We’ve seen here in the past the Lions get complacent when they’re good. Holmes said specifically that he didn’t want to do that with the Lions' top-tier offense.
“You’ve got to be mindful of, ‘Well, OK, let’s just ignore the offense and just kind of just put all the eggs on defense.’ No, you’ve got to keep it balanced,” Holmes said. “You’ve got to make sure that your offense is staying explosive.”
The Lions' defense isn’t a fully finished product, but they are a much-improved product. Let’s start with the secondary. Arguably the weakest spot on the roster last season becomes one of their most dangerous spots on paper. The Lions' secondary is now populated by Cameron Sutton, Emmanuel Moseley, C.J. Gardner-Johnson, Tracy Walker, Kerby Joseph, Jerry Jacobs, Will Harris, and Savion Smith.
Add rookie defensive back Brian Branch to that group now and it only gets better. Branch was the best safety in the 2023 NFL Draft and the Lions scored him significantly lower than he was expected to go pre-draft. Branch is a versatile defensive back that can not only play safety, he can also play the nickel, too. The Lions have so much fluidity in this group that it shouldn't surprise anyone if they chose to constantly change up their looks on defense. Even if they don’t, there is so much quality depth right now that the Lions should at least be protected from injury issues.
The Lions added a real dog in the linebacker room when they added Jack Campbell. This giant of a linebacker stands at 6-foot-5 and weighs in at 246 pounds. He’s intimidating just standing there. When he’s on the field, he has athleticism you don’t expect to see from a guy with that frame. He can work in coverage and he can stop the run.
More than anything with Campbell, it feels like the Lions just drafted their future defensive captain. Nothing but rave reviews from Iowa's coaching staff and teammates. New Lions tight end Sam LaPorta said that Campbell would be the teammate he’d most like to play with in the NFL. He got his wish.
They didn’t grab a defensive lineman as early as many of us thought that they might, but they did grab a guy who looks like he could really pay off in time in Brodric Martin. At 6-foot-5 and 337 pounds, Martin has the mass and strength you love to see from a nose tackle. The Lions needed to improve their run defense this offseason and Martin will play a key part in that. His addition also allows Alim McNeill to stay at the three-tech, where he flashed signs of brilliance last year. Coming from a small school, it may still take time for Martin to adapt and develop, but with Isaiah Buggs on the roster, there’s no rush.
It’s going to be fun to watch where this defense goes. One thing is for sure though, they should be significantly better in 2023 than they were in 2022.