ESPN spotlights critical area for Detroit Lions this season

It feels obvious, but through their roster rankings ESPN has put spotlight on a critical area for the Lions this year.
Kimberly P. Mitchell / USA TODAY NETWORK

By any measure as a pass defense, the Detroit Lions were pretty bad last season. So general manager Brad Holmes went about remodeling the cornerback depth chart this season, adding Carlton Davis in a trade, signing Amik Robertson in free agency and using this year's first two draft picks on Terrion Arnold and Ennis Rakestraw.

Over at safety, Kerby Joseph and Ifeatu Melifonwu are the projected starters with ongoing talk slot corner Brian Branch will see more snaps at safety this year. All in all, the Detroit secondary can't help but be better this year. It's just a matter of all the new pieces coming together as a unit.

ESPN recently ranked NFL rosters and projected starting lineups for this year, with somewhat of an analytic bent led by commentary from MIke Clay, Seth Walder and Aaron Schatz.

The Lions came in No. 5 in the ranking, behind the New York Jets at No, 4. But the analysis is an important piece here, as ESPN's analysts spotlighted the Lions' secondary.

ESPN analysts spotlight the Lions' secondary in roster rankings

Clay was tabbed with outlining the strengths and weaknesses for each roster. For the Lions. he had safety as the biggest weakness.

"I'm getting picky here because this is a really good, balanced roster. In fact, safety could prove a strength depending on how Brian Branch is deployed. The versatile Branch was Detroit's primary slot corner last season (72% of his snaps were at CB) and seems likely to sustain that role in 2024. That would position Kerby Joseph and Ifeatu Melifonwu as the team's top safeties (no other safeties on the roster played a snap in 2023)."

Safety depth is easy to point to as a need for the Lions. The addition of C.J. Moore coming off his year-long gambling suspension is helpful on that front though, as as Clay noted Branch may factor into the mix.

For the Lions' "x-factor", Walder doubled-up with Davis and Arnold.

"Detroit invested in its weakness from last season (especially after it released Cameron Sutton) by trading for Davis and trading up in the 2024 NFL draft for Arnold, but that isn't a guarantee for success. Davis is coming off a rough season in which he allowed 1.9 yards per coverage snap, the third most by any outside corner with at least 300 coverage snaps, per NFL Next Gen Stats."

Davis is coming off a down year with the Buccaneers, and Arnold is an unknown quantity until he gets on the field for a meaningful game. If the Lions' secondary is going to make notable improvement this year, it won't be without Davis and Arnold making a difference.

Schatz kept with the defensive back theme by going with Robertson as the "nonstarter to know" for the Lions.

"Robertson had strange charting stats last season in Las Vegas. He was ninth in success rate but 83rd among qualifying cornerbacks in yards allowed per pass. He didn't allow a lot, but when he got beat, it was very, very bad. And the previous season was similar. If injuries force Robertson into Detroit's starting lineup, he has to avoid giving up those huge plays."

Robertson seems to be an ideal fit for the Lions in demeanor and play style. But he is relatively inexperienced, having earned a bigger role with the Raiders the last two seasons after two years of hardly playing. As Schatz noted, closing the gap he has between shutting down receivers and allowing big plays when he does allow something will be something to watch if he plays a lot.

It's not a secret the secondary's performance will be critical to the Lions' success this year. So it's no surprise ESPN's analysts spotlighted it in a look at their roster, honing in on three new additions.

dark. Next. 3 Detroit Lions who could easily lose snaps to a rookie this year. 3 Detroit Lions who could easily lose snaps to a rookie this year