Although quarterback Jared Goff, center Frank Ragnow, and special teamer Jalen Reeves-Maybin are not at the Pro Bowl Games this weekend, there are five Detroit Lions players who made the trip: tackle Penei Sewell, running back Jahmyr Gibbs, tight end Sam LaPorta, defensive end Aidan Hutchinson, and wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown. While you may have already seen the hilarious picture of Gibbs and Sewell riding the Velocicoaster at Universal Studios’ Islands of Adventure, there is a lot of coverage of our Detroit Pro Bowlers to catch up on.
Sewell, the best offensive lineman in the league according to PFF, appeared at a one-on-one competition between offensive and defensive linemen hosted by YouTuber Deestroying. ESPN’s Eric Woodyard wrote up an article with quotes from the Lions right tackle at the event, telling YouTuber Deestroying (Former Central Florida kicker Donald De La Haye) he wholeheartedly backs head coach Dan Campbell’s decision making and leadership:
“If he tells me to jump off a cliff with him, I’m right next to him,” Sewell said of Campbell. “I’m so serious. So, whatever he says, whatever he calls, we’ve just got to execute. So, that’s on us really. That’s my guy.”
Deestroying called it amazing to watch the #Lions this season and called them “America’s team low-key, unofficially.” Says he rooting for Detroit to make it all the way. “It was super exciting to watch,” @Deestroying said. https://t.co/E0XYB7mBph
— Eric Woodyard (@E_Woodyard) February 2, 2024
Team reporter Dannie Rogers has been in Orlando covering the Lions’ Pro Bowlers, and the organization’s official Twitter account posted some short interview videos with Sam LaPorta and Aidan Hutchinson:
It turns out both LaPorta and Hutchinson were tapped to wear GoPro cameras (you can see the harness mounting the camera in Hutchinson’s interview with Rogers above), so expect to see some outstanding mic’d up footage from the Lions media folks at Pro Bowl weekend featuring them. The team also posted photo galleries on the official web site for Pro Bowl practices on February 2nd and 3rd (the players were wearing the GoPros and interviewed with Rogers on Friday the 2nd, according to the pictures posted).
It wasn’t just the Lions players who were on hand for honors at the Pro Bowl Games, though. Dannie Rogers also recorded an interview with one of two recipients of the 2023 Don Shula Coach of the Year award, Muskegon’s Shane Fairfield. According to a feature by ABC affiliate WZZM 13 in Grand Rapids on Fairfield’s award, the Muskegon Big Reds are the winningest program in Michigan with 900 all-time wins.
Each year, the NFL franchises nominate high school coaches for the honor and the league selects one to represent the AFC and one to represent the NFC. Fairfield, the Lions’ nominee for 2023, was the NFC selection and will be at the Pro Bowl, Super Bowl, and NFL Honors ceremony as a guest of the league.
Now, on to the rest of your weekend Notes:
This is pretty shocking:
Ben Johnson tied for the longest-tenured OC in the league.
— Jeremy Reisman (@DetroitOnLion) February 1, 2024
Aaron Glenn tied for the 3rd-longest tenured DC in the league.
That kind of stability is not common. https://t.co/cTONSm8bM6
Fearless Leader Jeremy Reisman was a featured guest on Friday’s episode of Anthony Bellino’s X’s and BrO’s show. You can listen to the 17-minute audio on Spotify.
Among all offensive backs and receivers, former NFL quarterback David Carr ranked two Lions in his final list of top 15 players for the 2023 season: quarterback Jared Goff (14th) and wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown (15th). Tight end Sam LaPorta barely missed the cut.
Joel Corry at CBS Sports wrote about how much he thinks Detroit might have to pay Jared Goff in a contract extension.
Defensive tackle Alim McNeill took a big step forward in 2023 according to Pro Football Focus:
2022 PFF grade: 69.8
— PFF DET Lions (@PFF_Lions) February 2, 2024
2023 PFF grade: 88.5
Alim McNeill more than doubled his career sack total in 2023 pic.twitter.com/lVCY5NcxbY
According to NFL.com’s Cynthia Frelund, the Lions offense was one of the most overperforming units in all of football in 2023.
Next Gen Stats provides three fascinating notes that help provide valuable context for how this Detroit offense operated. First, the Lions featured the top two players in the entire league when it came to shifts/motions, with LaPorta ranking first (249 snaps with shift/motion) and St. Brown second (220). Secondly, Jared Goff clearly trusted his No. 1 target, as St. Brown earned 741 yards on in-breaking routes (third in the NFL).
An interesting addendum to Frelund’s comment on LaPorta is that it seems like there’s data backing up the assertion he’s one of the crucial pieces that allows for offensive coordinator Ben Johnson to beat up on opposing defenses. In the following chart by StatsBomb_FB, the further above the line a team is, the more lining up with players in weird spots “out of position” helps the offense. For the Lions, almost all of the space above the line on the vertical axis is due to LaPorta (a follow-up plot excluding tight ends lining up in the slot puts the Lions back down on the diagonal line).
Between CMC, Deebo Samuel, Kyle Jeszczyk, and George Kittle, the @49ers have one of the most interchangeable offensive personnel groupings in the NFL.
— StatsBomb Football (@StatsBomb_FB) January 30, 2024
Across the NFL, teams have more success when aligning players up in non traditional roles.
Creativity -> Success pic.twitter.com/Eg9eRA5i0f
Pro Football Focus’ Brad Spielberger wrote about upcoming wide receiver and quarterback free agents and some likely landing spots for them. He thinks Detroit’s Josh Reynolds is a good fit for Washington and Atlanta. As for incoming players, Spielberger thinks Tennessee wide receiver Nick Westbrook-Ikhine might be a player Detroit is interested in, but the logic is kind of odd (“vertical field stretcher,” but Westbrook-Ikhine isn’t particularly fast).
Some of the Lions players (and a non-Lion Detroit native) showed up to support their local NBA team from the stands: