The Detroit Lions practiced an aggressive approach to the NFL offseason. After finishing 2022 with a 9-8 record, GM Brad Holmes went to work in building a roster that could get back into the playoffs.
The team attacked the free agent market, completely overhauling its secondary and much of its defense. In the draft, Holmes moved around and took his guys regardless of perceived positional value.
The acquisition phase of the offseason is as good as over. Detroit signed a handful of undrafted free agents, and its roster entering training camp is as good as settled. Settled unless a big fish becomes available on the market.
There is no question the Lions’ roster is improved over the 2022 season. The makeover on the defensive side of the ball should go a long way toward improving a unit that ranked near the bottom of the league. Additional talent on a mostly intact offense should only bolster a group that ranked top five in the NFL.
A quick glance at the Lions’ projected depth chart shows a lot of starting spots that should be locked in. However, starting spots are won not handed out freely. While the likes of Jared Goff, Aidan Hutchinson and Cam Sutton are practically guaranteed starting nods, there are some intriguing position battles for the Detroit Lions entering training camp.
Brock Wright and Sam LaPorta battle for the Detroit Lions’ starting tight end spot
After trading away T.J. Hockenson midway through the 2022 season, the Lions turned to a tight end by committee approach. Standing out among the group was Brock Wright.
The 24-year-old tight end posted 216 yards and four touchdowns in 10 starts with Detroit. Wright provided average to above-average tight end play for the Lions. He flashed the skillset that could make him an intriguing starter, but the Lions entered the offseason with a need to add more talent to a depleted tight end room.
Detroit landed the 34th overall pick as part of a trade package that send the sixth overall pick to the Arizona Cardinals. With that pick, the Lions selected Sam LaPorta out of Iowa. In his final collegiate season, LaPorta boasted 657 receiving yards and a touchdown off 58 receptions.
LaPorta is an adequate blocker, but where he truly shines is in the receiving game. He possesses the speed to separate from linebackers and his route running is arguably the most refined of any tight end in the 2022 class. He is not great in contested catch scenarios, but LaPorta makes defenses pay if he gets open space.
LaPorta likely has the upper hand in this position battle. The Lions invested a high pick in the Iowa product, and his skillset should allow him to outperform the rest of the guys in Detroit’s tight end room. However, if Wright is able to make significant strides in his development, there is no reason to think he can hold onto the starting job. Wright showed flashes in 2022, but he needs to make those consistent to beat out LaPorta.
Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Graham Glasgow battle to start at right guard for the Detroit Lions
The Lions recently restructured Halapoulivaati Vaitai’s contract. The veteran guard took a pay cut and the 2024 season is now a void year. During free agency, Holmes brought back Graham Glasgow for a second stint in the Motor City.
Neither player is an ideal candidate to start opposite Jonah Jackson at guard. Vaitai is returning from an injury that cost him the entire 2022 season. Glasgow is coming off a down season where he allowed five sacks and committed 10 penalties. He posted his lowest Pro Football Focus grade since his rookie season in 2016.
Both guards are most likely Band-Aid options until the team can find a long-term option at the position. The team may have found that long-term replacement in the fifth round of the draft. Colby Sorsdal out of William and Mary is an interesting prospect. The 6-foot-6, 301-pound offensive lineman is expected to transition from tackle to guard at the NFL level. Sorsdal possesses above-average athletic ability, but he needs to work on his anchor and strength.
Significant strides by Sorsdal could earn him the starting nod this season, but that is not the expectation. The battle likely comes down to Vaitai and Glasgow. The deciding factor could ultimately be just how healthy Vaitai is when he returns to the field.
Jack Campbell battles Alex Anzalone for the right to start next to Malcolm Rodriguez
In a base 4-3 defense, there is no battle. There is enough room for Jack Campbell, Alex Anzalone and Malcolm Rodriguez on the field. However, nickel is the new base defense for most NFL teams. The Lions are no exception. With three wide receiver sets becoming the norm, fielding five or more defensive backs at a time is a necessity.
After enjoying an outstanding rookie campaign, there is no chance Rodriguez is unseated for a starting spot in the nickel. Veteran Anzalone and 18th overall pick Campbell will have to fight it out to see who starts next to Rodriguez.
Anzalone has experience on his side. He played well next to Rodriguez, and the 2022 season was arguably the best of his entire career. However, the linebacker is limited. Anzalone is not an exceptional athlete, and he does not possess elite size. His play is average. He does not stand out as a complete liability, but he does not elevate a defense in any way.
Campbell has elite size. The 6-foot-5 linebacker moves very well for his frame. He possesses solid sideline-to-sideline speed. As a run defender, Campbell thrives. He fills holes well, and he is a sound tackler. In zone coverage he holds his own on passing plays; however, he should not be asked to line up man-to-man too often.
There is little doubt Campbell will be the long-term fixture next to Rodriguez in Detroit’s defense. The question is can he unseat Anzalone early on? The answer to that depends on just how quickly can Campbell adjust to the NFL game.
For more from the author, Thomas Chavez, check him out on Twitter here: @tlchavez43
Featured Image Credit: © Lon Horwedel-USA TODAY Sports
Tweet: @WoodwoodSports or comment on your favorite social media platform!