This is part one of Free Press’ “Five Most Important Players” series, in which we’ll look at the x-factors for the six major times. Freep Lions beat out consulted writer Dave Birkett on this list.
Starting this series with a look at the Detroit Lions is an interesting challenge. This is because there are countless important players on the roster who could be included. It didn’t happen overnight, but Lions general manager Brad Holmes built a roster that’s now good enough to compete with, with key players all over the field.
The Lions have won eight of their last 10 games in the 2022 season, including a win over the Green Bay Packers, ending their long, uh, relationship with Aaron Rodgers.
But that’s in the past. It is now a question of meeting these expectations.
Let’s start by clarifying something: the most important players are not necessarily the best players, so a player who is not on the list is not “snubbed” – there were only five more. important players.
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Although the Lions have had a strong offseason, adding many players to the NFL Draft and free agency that should have an immediate impact, many key numbers for 2023 will be players from last year’s team. .
And that’s not counting the non-players who will be decisive. Offensive coordinator Ben Johnson and defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn are expected to have good years. Johnson has the opportunity to prove that last season was no fluke and that he is worthy of an NFL head coaching job. Meanwhile, Glenn, who was in the hot seat at the start of the season as the Lions struggled to get saves, needs to show he’s the right man for the job. If both coaches prove themselves this season, it will put the Lions who are on the pitch in position to succeed.
So without further ado, here are the five most important Lions this year.
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No. 5: Whatever the kicker
Okay, we’re breaking our own rules by not sticking to one player here. And that is the exact reason why he needs to be on the list.
The Lions signed Michael Badgley (aka “The Money Badger”) in Week 5 of the 2022 season and Badgley was relatively efficient, hitting 24 of 28 field goal attempts and all 33 extra points.
But heading into this offseason, it looks a lot like open competition.
On Thursday, the Lions acquired kicker Riley Patterson from the Jacksonville Jaguars for a conditional 2026 seventh-round pick.
That means it’s now a three-way kicking competition in Detroit, as Patterson will join Badgley and Parker Romo — a Virginia Tech product who made the All-XFL team this spring — in the race.
The Lions are expected to have plenty of close games next season, and the NFL is made for parity. As a good team that wants to be great, those goals on the field and those extra points along the way could be the difference.
But… to paraphrase the old adage: If you have three kickers, do you really A?
The Lions are certainly hoping the race will go on its own. Because good kickers are like good referees. The less you have to talk to them about, the better they are probably doing their job.
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Already a fan favorite and productive as a rookie, the Lions will need Aidan Hutchinson to find more consistency in Year Two.
The former Michigan star dominated at times and made big plays. But he struggled to produce on a regular basis. He had an impressive 9½ sacks as a rookie, but more than half (five) came in just two games, against the Washington Commanders in Week 2 and the Green Bay Packers in Week 18. Conversely, he played 10 games last year without a bag. and six without even a quarterback in a hurry.
At times, it felt like Hutchinson was one-dimensional, and offensive tackles intentionally allowed him to rush outside, knowing he probably wouldn’t cut inside and get to the quarterback.
Still, Hutchinson brings a game juice that few players have. It’s what made him one of the few defensive players to be named a Heisman Trophy finalist. He’s proven he can do it at the NFL level, too, picking up three interceptions and two fumble recoveries in 2022.
As noted, the Lions are likely to have plenty of close games this season. Hutchinson’s falcon-ball skills could rock some games.
But the best teams in the NFL have elite assists. The Lions need constant pressure from the defensive line. And Hutchinson is their best shot at getting it.
No. 3: CB Cam Sutton
The first solo newcomer to this list, Sutton will be a must in high school.
The Lions defense struggled last season, ranking last in yards allowed per game, but the secondary was particularly weak. In 2022, the Lions allowed 245.8 passing yards per game, third worst in the NFL. Only the Minnesota Vikings (265.6) and Tennessee Titans (274.8) were worse.
Some of the Lions’ problems had to do with an inconsistent passing rush, but the secondary was also unreliable – and it’s clear the front office felt the same way.
After trading 2020 first-round pick Jeff Okudah to the Atlanta Falcons, the Lions handed Sutton a three-year, $33 million deal (with $22.5 million guaranteed) to leave the Pittsburgh Steelers. and come to Detroit. They also gave former Philadelphia Eagles safety CJ Gardner-Johnson and former San Francisco 49ers cornerback Emmanuel Moseley one-year contracts and added Alabama safety Brian Branch during from the April draft.
Moseley is recovering from a torn ACL suffered in October, which puts even more pressure on Sutton to deliver early and often.
His former coach at Pittsburgh said Sutton “might be the smartest player I’ve ever coached in all my years,” and the Lions will need him to help fix their 32nd-ranked defense.
All of these additions, along with getting Tracy Walker III back from injury, should give the Lions some depth when it comes to safety.
After making a significant investment, the Lions will also need Sutton to deliver at cornerback.
St. Brown proved his rookie year was no fluke, going 90 catches and 912 yards as a rookie despite just nine games to 106 catches for 1,161 yards in the second year.
Last season, he was clearly the best player in a group of wide receivers that grew throughout the year. St. Brown had a profound effect on offense, creating opportunities for passing and running plays with his ability to open up when it mattered most. And the statistics confirm this.
St. Brown’s 68 catches for first downs were fifth in the NFL last season, with only Stefon Diggs (72), Tyreek Hill (77), Travis Kelce (78) and Justin Jefferson (80) carrying more.
The Lions will need a repeat of that in 2023, especially with Jameson Williams suspended for the first six games and DJ Chark leaving for the Panthers via free agency.
St. Brown is an easy choice for the No. 2 selection here. If he can keep moving the chains like he did last year, expect the Lions offense to continue its explosive production.
No. 1: QB Jared Goff
But that’s right.
There is no player, and perhaps no one in the organization, who is as critical to the Lions’ success in 2023 and beyond as Goff.
The Lions acquired Goff as part of the Matthew Stafford trade in 2021, with Goff, the No. 1 overall pick in 2016, effectively thrown in to make the salaries work. In his first season, he struggled and the Lions fell to 3-13-1, although that was a little deceiving. After losing their first eight games, the Lions turned to Johnson as their offensive mastermind; Goff, after recovering from his injuries, has led the Lions to three wins in his last five starts.
Goff’s career has had extraordinary highs – remember, he made two Pro Bowls and led the Rams to the Super Bowl in his first three NFL seasons – and steep lows (getting fired 26 times in just seven games as a rookie, and being benched for John Wolford in LA in 2020).
Goff has what it takes to succeed. But it can be inconsistent.
It’s simple: the Lions need Goff to reach his all-time high in 2023. His past shows he’s capable. And the Lions really need it.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: 5 Detroit Lions Players Who Matter Most in 2023