The Detroit Lions have essentially completed minicamp and OTAs, and several rookies and young players have stood out. Chief among them is Brian Branch, the former Alabama Crimson Tide star defensive back who slid to the Lions at pick #45 overall.
The second-rounder has been impressive thus far during team activities, according to defensive backs coach Brian Duke.
“Brian Branch has been really exciting to have as a rookie so far,” Dukes said according to Woodward Sports. “Learning multiple positions…The kind of guy we thought we were getting on tape.”
The Lions’ pass defense was a weak link in 2022 despite the team’s winning record, but got better down the stretch. Rookie defensive back Kerby Joseph picked off Aaron Rodgers in what was Rodgers’ last pass in Green Bay, sealing a Lions road victory.
Detroit gave up 7.5 yards per pass attempt, second worst in the NFL.
Branch could add the type of physicality, versatility, and speed that was missing from the defensive backfield last season. The 6-foot, 193 pound safety has the skills to play nickel back and to cover receivers when necessary. He fits what defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn has been looking for at the position.
He is a sure tackler with 58 total last season including 14 for loss and three sacks. He also had seven passes defensed.
Combined with second-year standouts like linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez, who led all rookies in an unexpected statistical category last season, and rookie Jack Campbell, the Lions could be one of the best tackling teams in the NFC.
Second-year defensive end Aidan Hutchinson’s 2022 season stats compared favorably to Nick Bosa, one of the best pass rushers in the NFL.
Put it all together and it’s easy to see why Lions playoff, and perhaps even Super Bowl, hype is justified.
Branch, Joseph, Campbell, Rodriguez and the Lions are far from a championship caliber defense, but the talent pool is growing. A Week One matchup with the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs is the perfect motivation for a Lions team hungry for more success in 2023.