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2023 position breakdown: Linebackers

The good: There was a lot to like about the way Detroit's linebackers played this season.

Veteran Alex Anzalone became the fourth player in franchise history to record multiple seasons with at least 125 tackles, finishing 2023 with 129 to lead the team. He is the first player to have 125-plus in consecutive years since Ernie Sims in 2006-07.

Rookie Jack Campbell, who was the No. 18 overall pick in last year's NFL Draft, had a strong rookie season, notching 95 tackles (52 solo), five tackles for loss, 2.0 sacks and one pass defended. His tackles were the second most among all NFL rookies this season. He was the only rookie to record at least 80 tackles, five tackles for loss and 2.0 sacks.

Third-year linebacker Derrick Barnes also eclipsed the 80-tackle mark (81) and chipped in a sack, five tackles for loss, five quarterback hits and a huge interception to send the Lions to the NFC Championship Game.

Veteran Jalen Reeves-Maybin, who was All-Pro and a Pro Bowler as a special teamer, played less than 10 percent of the snaps on defense and still contributed 20 tackles, a sack and a couple passes defended.

It wasn't an easy second season for Malcolm Rodriguez being replaced in the starting lineup by Campbell, but Rodriguez embraced a special teams role and still made plenty of contributions on defense when put into the lineup due to injury. He's an unselfish young player.

Overall it's a pretty young group with plenty of room to grow.

The run defense is where the Lions really excelled on that side of the ball this season and the linebackers, along with the front four, deserve a lot of credit for that. The 36 runs of 10-plus yards allowed by the Lions this season were the second fewest in NFL. Also second fewest were the five runs of 20-plus yards allowed. Detroit was one of 13 teams that did not allow a 50-plus-yard gain on the ground all year.

Anzalone, Campbell, Barnes and Rodriguez are all under contract for next season.

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

The bad: The Lions made some big improvements on defense from the 2022 to 2023 season, but there is still room to grow.

In the end, it's all about limiting points, and Detroit's defense allowed 375 offensive points to opponents (22.1 per game), which ranked 22nd.

Detroit also struggled most of the season in the red zone. They ranked 29th in red zone percentage (66) and 28th in successful plays allowed in the red zone at 52.3 percent.

One area where both Campbell and Barnes can continue to grow their game is in pass coverage. Per Pro Football Focus, teams completed 67 of the 82 passes (81 percent) thrown in their coverage area this season.

MVP: Alex Anzalone

Anzalone has become the unquestioned captain and leader of this defense. He played through cracked ribs and a broken thumb and still had the kind of numbers he did.

Since joining the Lions in 2021, he is one of seven NFL players to total at least 325 tackles, 15 pass defenses, 15 tackles for loss, 5.0 sacks and two interceptions. In Week 11 vs. Chicago, Anzalone became Detroit's first player since at least 1999 to produce a game with at least 15 tackles and a fumble recovery.

He's one of the better cover linebackers in the league and a versatile weapon for defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn.

Most Improved: Derrick Barnes

Players develop at different paces in this league and things finally started to fall into place for Barnes in his third season. The game slowed down for him, and he had career highs in tackles (81), tackles for loss (5) and quarterback hits (5).

A former edge rusher at Purdue who was moved to stack linebacker in the NFL, it took some time for Barnes to get a feel for playing in space and now that he does his skillset should continue to develop and help make Detroit's defense better in 2024.

Free agents: Jalen Reeves-Maybin (unrestricted), Anthony Pittman (restricted)

It was good to see Reeves-Maybin finally get acknowledged for the excellent special teams player he's been his entire career. His 14 special teams tackles were tied for the league lead. He had four special teams tackles in one game Week 13 vs. New Orleans. He's a big component in Detroit's fake punt schemes and is sixth in franchise history with 54 special teams tackles. He seems like a player the Lions would want back in 2024. Pittman is also a core special teamer and versatile player.

Draft: Lions general manager Brad Holmes is always looking to add competition and depth at every position, but after spending a first-round pick on Campbell last offseason, linebacker doesn't fall high on the list of needs with Anzalone, Campbell, Barnes and Rodriguez all back.

Holmes always trusts his board, and if a talented linebacker with some versatility fits the draft spot, he's not afraid to take a player and throw them into the competition at a position with depth. Detroit utilizes the linebacker position pretty heavily on special teams.

Quotable: "What we're building here is extremely special. You can talk about it all day, but the proof is in the pudding, as they say. It's one thing to say that a city, and a team, and a culture is unique. It's a whole other thing to actually turn down the cheddar. We will get there," Anzalone wrote in a recent Players' Tribune article.

"I look at this roster and I see so much to be excited about. Jared (Goff). Aidan (Hutchinson). Amon-Ra (St. Brown). Penei (Sewell). Jahmyr (Gibbs). David (Montgomery). Frank (Ragnow). Sam (LaPorta). Dogs everywhere, up and down the roster. But it goes beyond talent. It's not like a catchy saying you put up on the walls of the facility. It's not something you can put into words. It's something we feel in our bones. We want to make history next season. Anything less is failure."

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