The Detroit Lions are one of the top contenders for the NFC North title in 2023. The team has a tremendous amount of hype behind it heading into their August preseason schedule and September 7 opener against the defending Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs.
If the young Lions are to make good on Head Coach Dan Campbell’s hopes to win something significant and make the playoffs in 2023, several key players will need to step up beyond the team’s stars including Jared Goff, Amon-Ra St. Brown and Aidan Hutchinson.
Here are the top five x-factors for a 2023 North division title:
1. Cameron Sutton, CB-
Sutton came over from the Pittsburgh Steelers and brings a level of physicality and maturity to the Lions the team has lacked at the position in recent years. Sutton has the skills to play press coverage at the line-of-scrimmage and the skills to play the ball in the air.
Recently, word came down from training camp that Sutton has had a difficult time covering St. Brown at times. That’s to be expected considering St. Brown is on track to become a superstar this season.
Still, Sutton needs to play his best for the Lions’ defense to take a leap from one of the league’s worst to becoming a championship-worthy unit.
2. Sam LaPorta, TE-
The rookie out of Iowa signed a massive contract recently and has reportedly been running with the first team in practice. LaPorta was one of the steals of the 2023 NFL Draft according to NFL star George Kittle of the San Francisco 49ers.
LaPorta is shifty with the ball in his hands and has the size and speed to run past or bowl over defenders in short and intermediate routes alike. If his body can hold up to the rigors of the NFL in year one, he could become a star sooner than later, taking the Lions’ offense from very good to borderline unstoppable.
3. Jameson Williams, WR-
The former first round pick out of Alabama has become an afterthought due to his six-game suspension to start the season.
Williams has the speed, size and explosive route running ability to take the top off the defense. His ability to beat the defense deep could open things up even more for LaPorta, St. Brown and the rest of the Lions’ receivers, including running back Jahmyr Gibbs out of the backfield.
4. James Houston, OLB-
Houston had a phenomenal debut 2022 season as a pass rusher, becoming one part of a dynamic duo along with Hutchinson in getting after the quarterback.
Recently, defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn gave Houston instructions on how he can get on the field more in 2023. He will face competition from defensive holderovers this year, but the competition could bring out the best in the former sixth round pick from Jackson State.
5. Jahmyr Gibbs, RB-
The Lions reportedly were “sweating bullets” over whether the versatile Alabama rookie would be available in the first round when it was their time to pick. With David Montgomery also in the backfield, Gibbs has the luxury of easing his way into the offense.
If Gibbs can become the big-play threat star offensive coordinator Ben Johnson and the rest of the Lions brass believes he can become, the Lions’ offense will be that much harder to stop in 2023.