Battered Lions Position Now One of NFL’s ‘Most Improved’ in Free Agency

Cameron Sutton

Getty Cameron Sutton during a game in Cleveland in 2018.

The Detroit Lions came into the offseason needing to find a way to boost the fortunes of their defensive backfield, and through one week, it seems as though they have done just that.

Their first two huge additions were cornerbacks Cameron Sutton and Emmanuel Moseley, a pair of players that will change the game early and often for the Lions when the 2023 season begins.

While the Lions are not yet close to being done with the free agency period, already, their moves have made a big impression on those watching around the league. Detroit struggled on the back end last year, but their first moves have set them up well to improve in 2023.

Pro Football Focus and writer Sam Monson took a look at naming the most improved positions in free agency for teams across the league. The Lions’ secondary clocked in as one of those groups already, based on the team’s aggressiveness in free agency.

Monson liked the team’s early moves not only for what they offer the team, but for what they could help Detroit do in the draft. Now, the Lions won’t be pressured to address cornerback so quickly if they don’t wish to, and can look at a best player approach.

“Detroit’s moves to build the secondary through the draft have been a mixed bag, but rather than pigeonhole themselves into needing to get an impact corner in the first round, they added a pair of veterans in Cameron Sutton and Emmanuel Moseley to ensure that the baseline of play from the group is dramatically higher in 2023. Moseley has allowed a passer rating of 82.8 into his coverage for his entire career and Sutton has multiple seasons with an above-average PFF coverage grade playing both outside and in the slot. Between those two players, the Lions know their cornerbacks are capable, and now can truly draft the best player available rather than chase the need to fill a weak spot,” Monson wrote of the Lions.

The Lions didn’t spend big at the position, but the bodies that they did add could be seen as significant toward being able to fill the glaring holes the team had last year. For that reason, there is no questioning the fact that the team has managed to improve drastically for 2023.

Having the backfield, which started the offseason as a major question mark, now looking like a huge spot of improvement is a win for the Lions. They can ride some of the early momentum into checking off their other remaining needs the rest of free agency and toward the NFL draft.

Lions’ Additions Fortified Needy Backfield

It wasn’t a surprise to see folks saying the backfield needed to be targeted in free agency. The Lions struggled last season, and their statistical problems pointed to the need for some big upgrades.

Detroit finished 30th in pass defense, allowing 26 touchdowns and over 245 yards per-game on average. Worse, they allowed a total of 4,179 yards through the air. That points to a group that simply didn’t get much going all season long.

Jeff Okudah, who posted 73 tackles and one interception was the most consistent player of the group, and by the end of the season, he was struggling to find consistency as well. The Lions have solid pieces like Jerry Jacobs, but not nearly enough depth at the position, which proved itself to be the case most of the year.

Free agent Amani Oruwariye is now on the outs after a very tough season in 2022, and Mike Hughes did not stick around via re-signing. Already, the Lions have won by getting the players they have into the room and subtracting out some of the bigger problems.

Already, it looks as if the team has done well to figure out how to solve the situaiton in a big way. That leads the group to be thought of as particularly boosted already.

Lions Could Make More Moves for Backfield

Are the Lions done with making additions to the team’s defense, and specifically the backfield? That might not be the case, with regards to both free agency as well as the NFL draft.

In free agency, the Lions could still elect to make a play or two, especially at safety. C.J. Gardner-Johnson remains a free agent, as does John Johnson III, a player Brad Holmes would know from his time in Los Angeles. Either would be a good depth play.

Within the draft, the Lions have plenty of players in a deep class that could fit between picks six and 18. The addition of Sutton and Moseley makes it seem the Lions would not be interested in drafting a cornerback high, but it can’t be ruled out, especially with the quality names that could be on the board.

Oregon’s Christian Gonzalez, Illinois’ Devon Witherspoon, Penn State’s Joey Porter Jr. and Maryland’s Deonte Banks could all be first-round talents. Other players such as Darius Rush of South Carolina could be found further down the board in other rounds.

No matter what happens, the Lions’ early work has left them in a strong position. Already, the folks at Pro Football Focus seem to know that.

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