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2023 position breakdown: Cornerbacks

The good: It was an up-and-down season for this group as they played much better the first half of the season than they did down the stretch.

The one bright spot all season was the play of rookie nickel cornerback Brian Branch, who totaled 74 tackles (50 solo), 13 passes defended and seven tackles for loss. He proved to be a versatile weapon for Aaron Glenn's defense and earned the starting spot at nickel pretty early after arriving in Detroit.

Branch ranked second among all rookies with three interceptions, one of which he returned for a key 50-yard touchdown in Detroit's Week 1 win over the Chiefs in Kansas City.

Detroit's defense was top 10 in the NFL on third down with opponents converting on average 37.1 percent of the time.

Detroit's secondary was also a good tackling unit all year, including the cornerbacks. Opponent yards after catch (1,863) ranked 11th in the NFL. They also allowed the second fewest 10-plus-yard runs all season with only 36. Only Miami and New England allowed fewer (32). A defense can't be high on that list without corners who support the run and aren't afraid to set an edge and tackle.

Detroit's 16 interceptions were 11th most in NFL and half of those came from the cornerback position: Branch (3), Jerry Jacobs (3), Cam Sutton (1), Will Harris (1).

View photos of the Detroit Lions cornerbacks from the 2023 NFL season.

The bad: Detroit's defense struggled the last month and a half limiting teams in the passing game. The final six games of the season the Lions allowed on average 411 passing yards per game and allowed five big individual receiving performances: Justin Jefferson (141 yards, 1 TD), CeeDee Lamb (227, 1 TD), Jefferson (192, 1 TD), Puka Nacua (181, 1 TD), Mike Evans (147, 1 TD).

Detroit allowed opponents to complete 69 passes of 20-plus yards, the most in the NFL this season. They also ranked 27th against the pass (247.4) and allowed 28 passing touchdowns, sixth most in the league. Opponents had a 94.7 passer rating on passing attempts traveling at least 21 yards in the air.

It's too bad we never got to see the impact veteran Emmanuel Moseley could have made on the unit. After rehabbing a torn ACL the previous 10 months he tore his other ACL just a couple plays into his Lions debut Week 5.

I expect Lions general manager Brad Holmes to look to add talent and depth to this group both via free agency and the NFL Draft this offseason.

Key stat: The 209 passing first downs allowed by Detroit's defense this season were the fourth most in the NFL as 56.3 percent of opponent completions resulted in a first down, the second highest percentage in the NFL behind only Arizona (57.1).

MVP: Brian Branch

The Lions signed veteran C.J. Gardner-Johnson to be their nickel cornerback ahead of the draft, but he was moved to safety pretty early in camp to accommodate Branch playing the slot corner role. That's how NFL ready Branch came into the league.

He recorded a critical pick-six in his first regular season contest to become the first Lions rookie since Louis Delmas in 2009 to record a pick-six and was Detroit's first rookie corner to do so since Bryant Westbrook in 1997.

Branch was credited with allowing five touchdowns in his coverage area, something he'll look to improve on heading into his second season.

Free agents: Will Harris (unrestricted), Emmanuel Moseley (unrestricted), Kindle Vildor (unrestricted), Khalil Dorsey (restricted), Jerry Jacobs (restricted), Chase Lucas (exclusive rights).

With six players heading into various stages of free agency this offseason there's a good chance the makeup of the cornerback room looks much different alongside Branch and Sutton.

This coaching staff loves Harris' versatility. Lucas has some upside as a young player.

Free agency comes before the draft and there are some good veteran cornerbacks set to hit free agency. Whether they get there or not we'll see come mid-March, but players like Jaylon Johnson (Chicago), L'Jarius Sneed (Kansas City), Kendall Fuller (Washington), Chidobe Awuzie (Cincinnati), Stephon Gilmore (Dallas) and Steven Nelson (Houston) are some of the top names slated to become free agents in 2024.

Draft: This is a very talented and deep group of cornerbacks in this draft. The position performed really well and showed its depth during last week's Senior Bowl.
ESPN NFL draft analyst Matt Miller has five cornerbacks taken in the first round of his first two-round mock draft and eight corners taken in the first two rounds. He has Detroit selecting Iowa State cornerback T.J. Tampa (6-2, 200) in the second round at pick No. 61.

Seven cornerbacks are listed among NFL media analyst Daniel Jeremiah's initial list of the Top 50 players available in the draft.

Quotable: "Welcome to the NFL and being a corner, that's just what it is," Glenn said before the NFC Championship Game when asked about Sutton and his defense giving up big plays in the passing game. "And that's what I like about Cam, because he doesn't let a lot of outside noise really affect him.

"Listen, we all know these guys have had some good games, we got it. But Cam has done a good job for us, I will say that. It's a reason why we're winning. It's a reason why we're holding teams to certain amount of points every week. And Cam's been a big part of that.

"So, I'm going to continue to support Cam and it's not easy. For the things that we ask him to do, it's not easy. So, I don't see us changing who we are. Obviously, there's going to be some adjustments when we go along, as far as the games are concerned. But listen, I'm 100 percent behind Cam for the most part."

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