The Good: It was no coincidence Detroit's defense started playing better the second half of the season once cornerback Jerry Jacobs returned to the lineup after rehabbing a torn ACL suffered in 2021. There's a reason Jacobs is one of defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn's favorite players. He's physical, relentless and has a short memory, three traits that suit a cornerback well. Jacobs was thrown at 60 times this year and he allowed 33 receptions (55 percent) for 408 yards and a touchdown. That equated to a 74.9 passer rating for opposing quarterbacks when targeting him.
I thought Jeff Okudah did some really good things the first half of the season, including a good performance in the first win over the Bears when he notched his first career pick-six in a one-point win. He had a career-high 15 tackles in a Week 7 loss to Dallas. His play became more inconsistent down the stretch, but he's still considered a young player with all the time he missed his first two seasons in the league due to injury.
When the Lions were able to pressure opposing quarterbacks, their numbers in the secondary were pretty good. Consider this, when the Lions blitzed this season, opponents had a 77.4 passer rating, the second lowest in the NFL, with six touchdowns and six interceptions.
Detroit also finished sixth in the NFL in tackles for loss from their defensive backs with 25. They got 12 of those from the cornerback position, led by Mike Hughes' four. Hughes played well at times rotating in and out of the lineup with Okudah toward the end of the season.
The bad: The Lions were in nickel defense (five cornerbacks) 75 percent of the time, which was much higher than the league average of 62 percent. Detroit finished last in the NFL in yards allowed per game (392.4) and 30th in points allowed (25.1).
While Jacobs played pretty consistent all season after he returned, that can't be said about Okudah, Hughes, Will Harris (primary nickel) and Amani Oruwariye. When opposing passers targeted Okudah, Hughes, Harris and Oruwariye they completed 70 percent of their passes (159-of-227) for 2,139 yards with 13 touchdowns and just two interceptions for a rating of 115.3, according to Pro Football Focus stats. Of that group, only Okudah had a passer rating against under 100.0 (97.0).
Detroit allowed the third most completions of 20-plus yards (60), the second highest rating on passes that traveled at least 21 yards in the air (114.0) and the eighth most passing touchdowns (26) on the season.
Key stat: Only the Chicago Bears (7.98) allowed more passing yards per attempt than the Lions' defense (7.94) this season.
MVP: Jerry Jacobs
Jacobs has become a reliable starter at one of the outside cornerback spots with plenty of room to continue to grow. His teammates describe him as a dog on the football field. He'll compete with anyone and plays a physical brand of ball, which fits both head coach Dan Campbell and Glenn.
Most improved: Will Harris
What Harris was asked to do this year wasn't easy. Move from safety, where he spent the first three seasons in the league, to nickel cornerback. There's a lot happening in the nickel, and it requires guys to play fast and make quick decisions.
Harris gave up three touchdowns and a 107.1 rating in pass defense, but he also had a big interception in the Week 2 win over Washington. He finished with 57 tackles, two tackles for loss, four passes defended, one interception, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
Free agents: Harris (unrestricted), Hughes (unrestricted), Oruwariye (unrestricted), Bobby Price (restricted).
With Harris, Hughes and Oruwariye all headed toward free agency, the cornerback position in Detroit could be in for significant restructuring. The Lions will have to decide by May on the fifth-year option for Okudah, otherwise he'll be on the last year of his rookie deal in 2023.
Some of the top potential free agents who could become available are: James Bradberry (Philadelphia), Jamel Dean (Tampa Bay), Cameron Sutton (Pittsburgh), Byron Murphy (Arizona), Rock Ya-Sin (Las Vegas), Patrick Peterson (Minnesota) and Jonathan Jones (New England).
Draft: This is a very deep draft at cornerback, which is good for a Lions team potentially looking to add a couple more after free agency.
Joey Porter Jr. (Penn State), Kelee Ringo (Georgia), Christian Gonzalez (Oregon), Cam Smith (South Carolina), Clark Phillips III (Utah), Devon Witherspoon (Illinois), Eli Ricks (Alabama), Emmanuel Forbes (Mississippi State) and Julius Brents (Kansas State) are some of the top names in a really stacked class of cornerbacks.
Quotable: "There's a lot of different areas that we can go, especially with the resources that we'll have available to us," Lions general manager Brad Holmes said after the season. "Obviously, our defense was ranked 32nd, so I mean it's pretty obvious that we're going to have to utilize some resources to try and improve that defense."