The Detroit Lions 2023 draft class will go down as a pivotal selection of players. General manager Brad Holmes tossed some conventional wisdom out the window and just selected, as he would put it, “football players.” Positional value or immediate need didn’t seem to concern him too much, and while that drew some poor reviews from draft analysts, others seem to admire the boldness.
One thing is for certain with this class, though: they are going to make an impact in 2023. Already, at least three rookies are headed for significant Week 1 roles, and it’s very likely it’ll be four.
But by the time we get to the end of the season, which Lions rookie will have made the biggest impact? Here are our picks for Detroit Lions 2023 Rookie of the Year.
Who will be the Lions’ 2023 Rookie of the Year?
Brandon Knapp: Brian Branch
There have been a few rare times during training camp or the preseason where Branch hasn’t been mentioned. Mostly every practice and game you hear his name called at least once and it’s always something different, whether it’s deflecting a pass in good coverage, tackling a player for a big hit, or getting to the quarterback for a sack. The man is a Swiss Army knife, and he is so talented that he has forced the Lions coaching staff to make roster moves so he can be a starter. He was projected to come off the bench while Gardner-Johnson played the slot and Tracy Walker played safety, but now they are moving Gardner-Johnson over to safety and letting Branch start at the nickelback position. Rarely do you see rookies have such an impact it forces the coaches to change up their gameplan.
John Whiticar: Brian Branch
Branch was not only my favorite pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, but also a prospect I rated higher than earlier draft picks Jahmyr Gibbs, Jack Campbell, and Sam LaPorta. The early returns are beyond promising—Branch has played so well in training camp and preseason, he has seemingly jumped into the starting lineup and pushed C.J. Gardner-Johnson into a traditional safety role. That might not stay true the entire season, but don’t be surprised if Branch becomes an elite defensive back sooner than later.
Morgan Cannon: Brian Branch
This may be zigging while everyone else is zagging, but I’m going with defensive back Brian Branch. He has looked way ahead of schedule during training camp and has worked his way into the starting lineup despite a plethora of veteran talent in the Lions’ secondary. Operating in the slot should give him plenty of opportunities to show just how multi-faceted his game is, and by the end of 2023—I bet there will be more than a handful of teams that are kicking themselves for passing on Branch.
Erik Schlitt: Brian Branch
For those who have yet to see Brian Branch in action, it’s hard to properly quantify how exceptional he has been during training camp. Think about this for a second. Branch has been so good, that he bumped C.J. Gardner-Johnson to safety, and in turn, team leader Tracy Walker into a reserve role. How NFL teams allowed this young man to fall to pick No. 45 remains a mystery.
Chris Perfett: Brian Branch
Both Branch and Jack Campbell are going to be trusted with quite a lot for this defense in time. Branch seems like the kind of dynamic defensive back that thrives in the modern NFL and I think he’s going to prove it this year. I had him as a first round grade and so far he’s looked the part.
Kyle Yost: Jahmyr Gibbs
I think Brian Branch might end up just as strong as Gibbs, but I expect the running back (and pass catcher) to have high usage and make a bigger impact in higher leverage situations. Gibbs is going to be used all over the formation, and while he will never end up with bloated carry totals, he will certainly get his share of touches—and plenty of yards. The Lions made a bunch of smart picks, but Gibbs is going to be the one all over the highlight reels.
Kellie Rowe: Jahmyr Gibbs
If training camp and preseason have told us anything, it’s Jahmyr. Gibbs is a guy who can make things happen. He’s explosive, good with his hands, and fast. He hasn’t even taken a regular season snap in the NFL and Dan Campbell has already labeled him part of a “two-headed monster” with fellow back David Montgomery. Expectations are high for the highest-drafted running back by the Lions since Barry Sanders and he’ll live up to them.
Ryan Mathews: Brian Branch
Can you pick anyone other than Brian Branch at this point? Sure, Jahmyr Gibbs is the flashy weapon on offense and Sam LaPorta figures to be the No. 1 tight end, but after the summer Branch had, who claimed the starting nickel cornerback position, it’s hard to imagine any other rookie having as big of an impact as he will week to week.
Jerry Mallory: Brian Branch
Brian Branch has turned the heads of any and everyone that has seen him compete this offseason. So much so, some have argued that he might be one of—if not the best—player on our defense ALREADY. He will force his way onto the field and in a starting position. The big hit in preseason Game 1 was just a glimpse of things to come.
Hamza Baccouche: Brian Branch
This is a tough one considering how promising the rookie class has already looked, but I have to go with Brian Branch. It’s one thing to hit the ground running as a rookie, but what Branch has done so far is transcendent to that. He’s giving this staff no choice but to relegate others in favor of him seeing the field, which is saying a lot considering how loaded the Lions are on the backend. I think we’ll see a Kerby-esque emergence from Branch over the course of the year, but Branch is basically starting where Kerby was at in Week 8 of last year. He’s surrounded by talent and will be able to progress at a healthy pace and show what he’s capable of.
Jeremy Reisman: Brian Branch
Branch is not only my pick for Rookie of the Year, but I think he has a legit shot at being the Lions best defensive player on the roster. I think it’s important we understand the gravity of what he’s already accomplished. He was so impressive in training camp, they decided to move one of their better players (C.J. Gardner-Johnson) to a different position and move one of their defensive leaders (Tracy Walker) to the bench. Branch is capable of impacting every aspect of the game, and I think he’s a darkhorse candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year honors.
Meko Scott: Brian Branch
This question is forcing me to choose between my head and my heart, but as a sentimentalist I’ll go with my heart and say Branch. Like with CJGJ, I don’t know if Branch will have eye-popping stats like Jahmyr Gibbs or potentially Sam LaPorta, but he will have plenty of opportunities to be on the field defensively. The way the NFL game is played these days requires many teams to have a nickel corner on the field a lot, which will only give DC Aaron Glenn more options to unleash his young rookie. Whether he’s blitzing, playing in coverage, or coming up in run support. I would expect to hear broadcasters calling Brian Branch’s name a lot.
Who will be the Lions’ Rookie of the Year in 2023?
This poll is closed