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2023 Detroit Lions roster preview: Can Jerry Jacobs earn a starting job for the 3rd straight year?

The Lions’ secondary looks a lot different than it did this time last year. Where do the new additions leave third-year cornerback Jerry Jacobs?

NFL: DEC 18 Lions at Jets Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Originally an undrafted free agent out of the University of Arkansas, Detroit Lions’ cornerback Jerry Jacobs’ path to the NFL has been anything but conventional.

He began turning heads back in 2021 training camp, and because of injuries decimating the Lions’ cornerback room early in his rookie year, Jacobs was forced onto the field very early in his professional career. He went on to start nine games in Detroit’s secondary in 2021, before his season was cut short due to a torn ACL suffered in a Week 14 loss to the Denver Broncos.

Headed into his third year in the NFL, Jacobs will be looking to stay in the mix as the Lions roll out what is almost an entirely new cornerbacks room than what they began the 2022 season with.

Let’s take a closer look at Jacobs in the next iteration of our 2023 roster preview series.

Previous roster previews: Aidan Hutchinson, Jameson Williams, Josh Paschal, Kerby Joseph, James Mitchell, Malcolm Rodriguez, James Houston, Chase Lucas, Obinna Eze, Greg Bell, Penei Sewell, Levi Onwuzurike, Alim McNeill, Ifeatu Melifonwu, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Derrick Barnes, Jermar Jefferson, and Brock Wright.

Jerry Jacobs

Expectations heading into 2022

Had he not suffered the aforementioned knee injury near the end of the 2021 season, expectations for Jacobs headed into 2022 likely would have been very high—especially when you consider Jacobs was a UDFA only a few years ago.

At 5-foot-11 and 203 pounds, Jacobs doesn’t possess elite size or speed at the cornerback position, but don’t tell him that. He plays the position with a tenacity and fearlessness that endears him to coaches and teammates alike. And because of his long, winding road to the NFL, Jacobs didn’t let the ACL tear in 2021 break his confidence in himself.

Because he suffered his injury in December of 2021, he wasn’t ready to begin the 2022 season—but it was believed he would have been firmly in competition with former Lions’ cornerback Jeff Okudah and current defensive back Will Harris for the second starting spot opposite another former Lion, Amani Oruwariye.

Actual role in 2022

11 games (8 starts): 542 defensive snaps, 76 special teams snaps
Stats: 33 total tackles, 1 sack, 1 interception, 5 PBUs
PFF defensive grade: 55.8 (72nd of 86 qualified corners with at least 500 snaps)
PFF run defense grade: 54.8 (62nd of 86)
PFF tackling grade: 57.0 (47th of 86)
PFF coverage grade: 54.5 (75 of 86)
PFF special teams grade: 58.8

Jacobs would go on to miss the first six weeks of the 2022 season while recovering from surgery, before making his debut in Week 7 against the Dallas Cowboys. A month later Jacobs would make his first start of 2022 during a Week 11 win on the road against the New York Giants, and would start the rest of the season at outside cornerback for Lions’ defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn.

Once again, injuries and inconsistent play forced the Lions’ coaching staff to make changes in the middle of the season, but Jacobs didn’t miss a beat. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but with all of the issues surrounding the Lions’ defense for the first year and a half of Jacobs’ time in Detroit, we have to give him credit for being on the field during the second half of the 2022 season, when the defense began to figure things out.

Outlook for 2023

Seemingly each offseason general manager Brad Holmes has been in Detroit, there is one position group that gets completely overhauled. And after two straight seasons in which the Lions’ pass defense lacked overall talent and depth, Holmes decided enough was enough—signing free agent defensive backs Cameron Sutton, Emmanuel Moseley, and C.J. Gardner-Johnson.

On top of those free agent additions, veteran safety Tracy Walker is said to be ready by the beginning of the 2023 season, and the Lions added University of Alabama defensive back Brian Branch in the 2023 NFL draft. In a matter of months, the Lions have gone from a relatively thin secondary, to a deep group, filled with veterans who have been there, and done that.

If we are looking at the depth chart for 2023, there likely won’t be many starting positions that are truly up for grabs. Cameron Sutton will almost surely be CB 1 for the Lions on the outside, with Gardner-Johnson in the slot, and Walker and second-year safety Kerby Joseph manning the two safety spots. So with all of that said, where does that leave Jacobs?

Moseley is still recovering from his own ACL tear that occurred in 2021, but will likely be the biggest competition Jacobs will face for the starting outside cornerback role opposite Sutton.

Can Jacobs challenge Moseley on the outside? Moseley put together some really impressive tape in 2021 prior to his injury, and many around the league think he was destined for a much bigger payday had he not gotten hurt.

If Jacobs isn’t a starter Week 1, can he prove himself versatile as a special teamer and as secondary depth—both at outside corner and at the nickel? He has the requisite skills and mindset to play in the slot, but the days of falling into a starting job in the Lions’ secondary are (hopefully) over.

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