Detroit Lions may have another building block for their secondary

Brian Branch is obvious, but the Detroit Lions may have another piece to build their secondary around.

Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK
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The last piece of last offseason's rebuild of the Detroit Lions' secondary was Brian Branch, in the second round of the draft. Branch was as advertised, or even better truly, making an impact play in Week 1 and he delivered all season in the nickel corner role (74 total tackles, seven tackles for loss, a team-high 13 pass breakups).

Safety Ifeatu Melifonwu stepped into a starting role in Week 14 last season, totaling five sacks from there through the playoffs. He was routinely one of the highest-graded Lions' defenders by Pro Football Focus, and he won NFC Defensive Player of the Week in Week 16. Finally healthy for a noticeable stretch, the first draft pick the Lions received in the Matthew Stafford trade delivered.

Cornerback, or more specifically outside cornerback, is a big need for the Lions as free agency and the draft approach. But Branch is a certified building block for the secondary.

The Detroit Lions may have another building block for their secondary

On PFF's list of its 20 highest-graded cornerbacks from the 2023 season, Branch comes in at No. 15 (78.9 overall grade).

Branch kicked off his NFL career with a bang, returning an interception off Kadarius Toney's hands for a touchdown. It took him until Week 13 to bring in another interception, and while he battled some injuries in the middle of the season, he caught fire to finish the season with an 83.7 coverage grade from Week 15 through the postseason.

Melifonwu was among PFF's highest-graded safeties from last season.

No. 9, to be exact.

"Melifonwu led all safeties in pressure rate (47.4%) recording 4 sacks (2nd) and 9 total pressures in 19 rush snaps. He ranked second in Zone coverage (89.9), recording a 29.6 passer rating (5th best), and ranked 10th overall in interception rate (8%)."

The big question with Melifonwu moving forward is of course health. He played all 17 games last season, but a hand injury relegated him strictly to special teams for a significant stretch before he supplanted Tracy Walker in the starting lineup. But he proved to be a weapon as a blitzer and plenty capable in coverage at the most important time of the season.

Branch is a great place to start as the Lions take another shot at building out their secondary this offseason. And we can't forget about Kerby Joseph at one safety spot.

But Melifonwu came on late last season to make a case that he's not going anywhere too. Next season, he'll have a chance to fully cement himself as a building block for the Detroit secondary.

Next. Detroit Lions post-NFL Combine 7-round mock draft: Trading up to fill No. 1 need. Detroit Lions post-NFL Combine 7-round mock draft: Trading up to fill No. 1 need. dark

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