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State of the 2023 Detroit Lions: Can Dan Campbell's offseason darlings live up to unprecedented hype?

Where does your squad stand in 2023? Adam Rank sets the table by providing a State of the Franchise look at all 32 teams, zeroing in on the key figures to watch and setting the stakes for the season to come.

Members of the Lions organization, Lions fans around the world and those who've been especially proud to rock the Honolulu Blue during this particular offseason ...

Detroit had the best ending to last season of any team in the NFL. OK, Kansas City might have something to say about that. Kidding aside, the 2022 Lions experienced a roller-coaster ride. They first captured our attention in training camp with a great performance on Hard Knocks, showcasing an irresistible culture that spawns from gregarious head man Dan Campbell. Then the games began, and Detroit fell off a cliff ... before rising from the dead, becoming one of the hottest teams in football and essentially ending the Aaron Rodgers era in Green Bay. Despite falling just short of the postseason, Detroit finished on an exhilarating high note. It was pretty incredible -- and the trajectory has Lions fans champing at the bit to kick off the coming season. Will the momentum from a rollicking win at Lambeau Field in the league's 2022 regular-season finale carry over to the 2023 NFL Kickoff Game at Arrowhead Stadium? That's what we're here to explore! But as always, before we look forward, let's take a quick glance back.

2022 rewind

One low from last season: The way it started. We all had jokes when Detroit began the season with one win in its first seven games. All the positive Hard Knocks vibes of August quickly gave way to the familiar "Same old Lions" refrain in September and October. The final insult of that horrendous stretch was a home loss to Miami that was particularly tough to swallow. Detroit jumped out to a 21-7 lead and went into halftime with a 10-point advantage, having scored points on all five of its possessions. But the Dolphins posted touchdowns on their first two drives after the break, the Lions' offense went into hibernation, and Miami ultimately came away with a 31-27 win.

One high from last season: The way it ended. With the Lions sitting at 1-6 following the crushing loss to the Dolphins, it sure felt like the bloom was off Campbell's rose in Detroit. But then the defense bowed up against the Packers, picking off Aaron Rodgers three times -- with two coming courtesy of rookie safety Kerby Joseph -- and Detroit beat Green Bay, 15-9. The divisional triumph kick-started a stunning about-face that saw the Lions win eight of their final 10 games, culminating in an inspired victory at Green Bay. Despite the fact that Detroit was officially eliminated before kickoff of the regular-season finale, Campbell's crew went out on the Sunday Night Football stage and knocked the Packers out of the playoffs with a 20-16 win. Joseph once again got the best of Rodgers, snagging a pick late in the fourth quarter that allowed Detroit to run out the clock -- with a little help from a leg catch and a hook-and-ladder. From 1-6 to 9-8 -- the Lions' first winning season in five years.

2023 VIPs

Quarterback: Jared Goff. I mean, I was as skeptical as anybody about Goff, but the man really put it together in the second half of last season, playing at his highest level since his Super Bowl campaign with the Rams. Fittingly, he earned his first Pro Bowl nod since that 2018 season. The most impressive part? Neither the 4,438 passing yards nor the 29 touchdown passes. NO. Goff threw just seven interceptions all last season -- and didn't have a single pick after Week 9. Over the Lions' final nine games of the regular season, Goff posted a sparkling 15:0 TD-to-INT ratio. If the 28-year-old continues to take care of the football, the Lions are going to be tough to beat this season.

Projected 2023 MVP: Amon-Ra St. Brown, wide receiver. The former fourth-round pick is a budding star, having tied the NFL record (previously set by Justin Jefferson and Michael Thomas) with 196 catches through his first two seasons. He's a target monster. The next evolution for him is to get into the end zone a bit more. He scored six touchdowns in each of his first two seasons, which isn't bad, but I expect him to make a leap in this department in Year 3. According to Next Gen Stats, the Lions fed him 20 red-zone targets this past season (tied for seventh), which he converted into five scores (also tied for seventh). Both figures were up from his rookie season -- 14 red-zone targets, three TDs -- and I expect this trend to continue in 2023.

New face to know: C.J. Gardner-Johnson, defensive back. Finishing the season ranked 28th in points allowed and dead last in yards allowed, the Lions' defense was a problem -- especially in the back end. DBs coach Aubrey Pleasant was fired at the end of October, and while the defense as a whole proved less leaky in the second half of the season, Detroit still finished 30th in pass D and third-down stop rate. Pretty crazy for a team that went 8-2 down the stretch. Unsurprisingly, the Lions overhauled their secondary in free agency, signing a pair of cornerbacks in Cameron Sutton and Emmanuel Moseley. But the addition that really caught my eye was Gardner-Johnson, a versatile defensive back who loves to mix it up both physically and verbally. Not to mention, he tied for the league lead with six interceptions last season despite missing five games due to a lacerated kidney.

2023 breakout star: Kerby Joseph, safety. Pressed into action by Tracy Walker III's Achilles tear in Week 3, the rookie third-rounder acquitted himself pretty darn well in 2022. As touched on above, he intercepted Aaron Rodgers not once, not twice, but THRICE -- and notched another pick (plus a 38-yard return) in a Week 11 road win over the Giants. Heading into Year 2, Joseph is receiving plenty of buzz in Allen Park, including from a new secondary mate we just talked about. "He's a second-year player, right? He doesn't realize how good he is, truthfully," Gardner-Johnson said, via "(He's) one of the best young safeties in the game." Ballhawk recognize ballhawk. Could the Lions' secondary go from sieve to strength? Well, with an offense that had no problem putting points on the board last season, Detroit really just needs the unit to be middle of the road, which seems quite possible with the offseason additions and continued growth from Joseph.

2023 braintrust

Table inside Article
Head coach Dan Campbell
General manager Brad Holmes
Offensive coordinator Ben Johnson
Defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn
Special teams coordinator Dave Fipp
  • Listen, Dan Campbell might come off a little bit like famed South Park character PC Principal. His sound bites are hilarious. He drinks a lot of coffee. Bottom line, though: The Lions play exceptionally hard for him. Again, Detroit started last season at 1-6. For the Lions to rally the way they did and finish with a winning record, well, that clearly tells you this is a team that loves playing for its coach.
  • Ben Johnson was a revelation in his first year as offensive coordinator. A holdover from the Matt Patricia regime, the former tight ends coach initially took on a bigger role with the offense midway through the 2021 campaign, after Campbell assumed play-calling duties from former OC Anthony Lynn. But it was Johnson's show in 2022, and he produced Detroit's first top-five offense in more than a decade. Consequently, he became a hot head-coaching candidate at the outset of this year's cycle. But in a major coup for the Lions, Johnson pulled his name from consideration to spend another season in the Motor City. If the Lions' offense lives up to increasingly high expectations, the creative play-caller will be ticketed for a ride on next year's coaching carousel.
  • Despite Detroit fielding the worst total defense in the NFL last season, coordinator Aaron Glenn continued to receive head-coaching consideration this offseason, interviewing with the Colts and Cardinals. To Glenn's credit, the Lions significantly improved in the second half of the season following a disastrous start. This was a big part of the team's 8-2 run down the stretch, as Detroit limited six of its final 10 opponents to 18 points or fewer. A three-time Pro Bowl cornerback during his 15-year playing career, Glenn unsurprisingly connects very well with his charges. If the Lions' D answers the bell in 2023, Glenn certainly could be a head coach in 2024.

Roster reshuffling

Below is a rundown of the Lions' most notable roster developments for the 2023 season, including this year's draft class, as well as key acquisitions and departures via free agency and trade.

Table inside Article
Draft class (round-pick) Key additions Key departures
Jahmyr Gibbs, RB, Alabama (1-12) David Montgomery, RB D'Andre Swift, RB
Jack Campbell, LB, Iowa (1-18) Marvin Jones, WR Jamaal Williams, RB
Sam LaPorta, TE, Iowa (2-34) Graham Glasgow, C/OG DJ Chark Jr., WR
Brian Branch, DB, Alabama (2-45) Emmanuel Moseley, CB Dan Skipper, OG
Hendon Hooker, QB, Tennessee (3-68) Cameron Sutton, CB Evan Brown, C/OG
Brodric Martin, DT, Western Kentucky (3-96) C.J. Gardner-Johnson, DB Michael Brockers, DL
Colby Sorsdal, OG, William & Mary (5-152) Riley Patterson, K Mike Hughes, CB
Antoine Green, WR, North Carolina (7-219) Jeff Okudah, CB
Amani Oruwariye, CB
DeShon Elliott, S

2023 roadmap

Three key dates:

  • Week 1 at Kansas City Chiefs (Thursday night). Hey, you want to be in the main event? Cool. Roman Reigns' music has just hit -- it's time for you to face the bright lights of expectations. Not that all is lost if Detroit loses this NFL Kickoff Game. But this is an immediate acid test for these offseason darlings: Are the Lions truly ready to compete with the best of the best?
  • Week 4 at Green Bay Packers (Thursday night). The Lions just swept the Packers for the third time in the past six seasons. Pretty shocking, right? This prime-time visit to Lambeau Field will be the first showdown between the two teams since Detroit stormed Green Bay in January and ended the Packers' season/Rodgers era.
  • Week 18 vs. Minnesota Vikings. Is this it? Will this be the de facto NFC North title game? Detroit plays just one divisional opponent before hosting Chicago in Week 11. The Lions face the Vikings in two of their last three games.

Will the Lions be able to ...

... get the most out of their new running back duo? Jamaal Williams and D'Andre Swift are out; David Montgomery and Jahmyr Gibbs are in. It was pretty shocking seeing Williams exit Detroit and sign with the Saints in free agency. He was the heartbeat of the Lions last year. How can you let this guy out of the building?! But football can be a cruel business. Also, if I'm being honest -- and a bit biased, as a Bears fan -- Montgomery is an upgrade on Williams. He's a better all-around running back, so that is good. And initially, Gibbs' acquisition seemed like a steep price to pay for Detroit. Spending the 12th overall pick on a non-premium position? In this economy?! But upon further thought, it makes sense. Gibbs is a good football player. If he proves to be the special offensive weapon that the Lions (and guys in my dynasty league) think he is, nobody is going to care where they drafted him. The same thing could be said of linebacker Jack Campbell, Detroit's other first-round pick. Not a premium position in team-building circles, but the 'backer could end up being great for the Lions in Year 1.

... find viable pass catchers to complement Amon-Ra St. Brown? You already know what I feel about St. Brown -- and if you don't because you're skimming this file, do yourself a favor and scroll back up to the VIPs section -- but he can't do it all on his own, even though he seemed to last year. St. Brown should have some help in 2023, though. Ideally, Gibbs is a better -- and mostly critically, healthier -- version of Swift, as a dynamic pass-catching weapon out of the backfield. Meanwhile, Detroit brought back old friend Marvin Jones Jr. as a solid veteran presence in the receiving corps, and Jameson Williams should provide an electric speed element once he returns from his six-game suspension. At tight end, Brock Wright had four touchdown grabs last season, but the real guy to watch is second-round pick Sam LaPorta, the latest offering from Iowa's tight end factory.

One storyline ...

... people shouldn't overlook: Detroit's D-line might be .... good? Aidan Hutchinson was as good as advertised last year. We should have known something special was brewing in Detroit when the Michigan native/Wolverines star dropped into the Lions' lap at No. 2 overall. And sixth-round pick James Houston proved to be quite a steal in Year 1, racking up eight sacks in seven games. Meanwhile, Detroit re-signed Isaiah Buggs and John Cominsky, two veteran defensive linemen who provided quality snaps last season. But the man I have my eye on is Alim McNeill. The defensive tackle is starting to look really good -- or should I say, really slim? Apparently, dude dropped 13 percent body fat to help him improve as a pass rusher. Could the former third-round pick be in for a third-year leap?

For 2023 to be a success, the Lions MUST:

  • Get to the playoffs. The bar has been raised. I don't know if you've heard your fans talking, Lions, but they seem to think you're the best team in the NFC. Not the NFC North. I mean, yes, the NFC North -- but also, a vocal part of your fan base believes you're the best team in the conference. I won't go that far. Anything less than a postseason appearance should and will be viewed as a disappointment.

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