Rookie minicamp is one of the first tastes of football post-NFL Draft, and the Detroit Lions have plenty of rookies to look forward to seeing.
The early observations are exciting, and with the excitement comes expectations. From first round talents to Day 3 end-of-the-draft selections, the expectations will vary wildly. Some will be viewed as instant impact players. Others will be viewed as depth and rotational pieces. Some might even struggle to make the roster.
Depending on your view of the Lions or football in general, you might temper your expectations or inflate them. A player puts together a good minicamp that reporters are raving about? He might suddenly jump up fantasy rankings or your mental depth chart. We try not to overexaggerate in May—it’s a long season after all—but it’s very easy to get hyped about a new season of football.
Today’s Question of the Day is:
What are your expectations for the Detroit Lions’ rookies?
My answer: I’ll break it down by prospect.
RB Jahmyr Gibbs: Jeremy Reisman set a perfect bar for Gibbs in his “Which Detroit Lions rookie will make the biggest Year 1 impact?” article a few weeks ago. In it, Jeremy mentions Gibbs being an asset as a receiver, potentially hitting 80 receptions like Christian McCaffrey and Alvin Kamara in their rookie seasons. I think those two names are good comparisons for Gibbs. McCaffrey had 435 rushing and 651 receiving yards in his rookie season, while Kamara had 728 rushing and 826 receiving. Kamara’s rookie season—which won the Rookie of the Year title and an All-Pro nod—should be the dream scenario for Gibbs, but I think a 1,000 total yard season like McCaffrey is very reasonable. I’m expecting David Montgomery and Gibbs to replicate what Mark Ingram and Kamara did in New Orleans.
LB Jack Campbell: Campbell is likely the Lions’ every-down linebacker of the future, but that might not come in 2023. With Alex Anzalone back in the fold, I expect Campbell to start alongside him in multi-linebacker sets, serving as Anzalone’s understudy and learning from a veteran captain. There is a chance Campbell usurps Anzalone’s spot as top linebacker by season’s end, though he shouldn’t be rushed into that role. Considering a potential rotation with Malcolm Rodriguez and Derrick Barnes, I expect Campbell to hover around 600 snaps, give or take a hundred.
TE Sam LaPorta: LaPorta should be the unquestioned TE1. The bigger question is what the TE1 role will entail. After trading away T.J. Hockenson, the Lions had limited-but-efficient production from their tight ends. I expect the production to see an increase, but I still think the tight ends will be more complementary pieces on offense. LaPorta has a sky-high ceiling, but the rookie learning curve for tight ends is steep. George Kittle had 515 receiving yards in his rookie season, and I think around 500 yards is a fair expectation. Give me a few big plays highlighting his impressive mismatch ability.
DB Brian Branch: Though I am very excited about Branch, I think 2023 could be a quieter year for him. The reason is easy: the secondary was massively overhauled. Put Branch on the 2022 Lions, and he’s a Day 1 starter. However, the Lions added C.J. Gardner-Johnson, a comparible safety/nickel hybrid, so barring injury, Branch won’t start over him. Branch could see action as a third safety if Gardner-Johnson is in the slot. Branch is a good player and the Lions will find a role for him, even if it’s limited at first. I would be happy with 400 snaps—an interception would icing on the cake.
QB Hendon Hooker: Recovery is the expectation for Hooker, who might end up redshirting his rookie season. If Hooker is inactive for the entire season, that is by no means a disappointment: that’s just reasonable. However, if Hooker is able to return to health at some point this season, he likely still won’t see the field barring an injury to Jared Goff. The one instance where he could see the field, as mentioned by Ryan Mathews, is during a Week 18 game against the Minnesota Vikings. If the Lions clinch the playoffs ahead of Week 18 and Hooker is ready to play, it would make sense to give him the start against the Vikings in an otherwise meaningless game. That’s my dream scenario for 2023.
DT Brodric Martin: Martin should compete with Isaiah Buggs for the starting nose tackle role, shifting Alim McNeill into more of a three-technique role where he excelled last season. Because of how well Buggs played down the stretch in 2023, the starting role will not be given to Martin. Depending on how that battle plays out, I would still expect to see a rotation, similar to how the Lions played Buggs (752 snaps) and Benito Jones (309 snaps). Give me 400 snaps as an expectation for Martin—as a nose tackle, even a single sack for Martin would be a win.
OL Colby Sorsdal: In a perfect world, the Lions offensive line is fully healthy. Yet even if a tackle or interior lineman gets hurt, the Lions have replacement options ahead of Sorsdal. Graham Glasgow can play guard or center, while Matt Nelson projects as the top tackle reserve. Sorsdal was always a draft pick for the future, so if he sees the field in 2023, it would mean that he really impressed in camp or the starters and reserves are struggling or injured.
WR Antoine Green: As a seventh-round selection, there are almost no expectations for Green—making the roster itself is not a given. That being said, Green does benefit from a roster lacking many outside receiving options, especially in the wake of Jameson Williams’ suspension. Though Green has a leg up over the undrafted free agents like Chase Cota and Keytaon Thompson due to his draft status, a good training camp from another player could cost Green his roster spot. My expectation is that Green makes the 53-man roster, but anything can happen in the coming months.
As for undrafted rookies, I won’t go into depth about their potential—check out Erik Schlitt’s UDFA breakdown article or Jeremy and Erik’s 53-man roster projection for more—but all of them face an uphill battle to make the roster and thus have no expectations. I have high hopes about running back Mohamed Ibrahim and safety Brandon Joseph, but just making the roster would be a massive victory.