Skip to main content


Presented by

2023 training camp preview: Cornerback

On the roster: Cam Sutton, Emmanuel Moseley, C.J. Gardner-Johnson, Jerry Jacobs, Brian Branch, Will Harris, Saivion Smith, Starling Thomas V, Chase Lucas, Jarren Williams, Steven Gilmore, Khalil Dorsey

Key losses: Jeff Okudah, Amani Oruwariye, Mike Hughes

Table inside Article
Name Games Tackles TFL INT PD Sacks
Cam Sutton^ 16 43 1 3 15 0.0
Emmanuel Moseley^ 5 22 1 1 5 0.0
C.J. Gardner-Johnson^ 12 67 5 6 8 1.0
Jerry Jacobs 12 42 4 1 8 1.0
Will Harris 15 57 2 1 4 0.0
Brian Branch* 13 90 14 2 7 3.0
Saivion Smith 1 1 0 0 0 0.0
Starling Thomas V* 13 30 1 0 15 0.0
Chase Lucas 6 3 0 0 0 0.0
Jarren Williams 2 0 0 0 0 0.0
Steven Gilmore* 13 41 0.5 3 10 0.0
Khalil Dorsey^ 6 2 0 0 0 0.0

^with another team *college stats

Best competition: Sutton is a lock for one of the two outside starting cornerback roles, and Gardner-Johnson will play a lot in the nickel. We could see him at safety some too. The real question is who takes the other starting spot outside opposite Sutton?

Moseley was signed in free agency, but he's still rehabbing a torn ACL suffered last October and didn't take part in competitive periods in OTAs and minicamp.

Both Moseley and the team said his rehab is going well, and he looked to be moving well in walkthrough and non-competitive periods.

Jacobs, who is entering his third season in Detroit, took a lot of the reps opposite Sutton in the spring and summer. After returning midseason last year from a torn ACL suffered in 2021, Jacobs was arguably Detroit's most consistent cornerback. From Weeks 9-18, opposing quarterbacks completed just 55 percent of the passes thrown his way. He allowed just one touchdown in his coverage area over that span and had a 74.9 passer rating against.

Defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said during the season Jacobs was one of his favorite players because of his physical style of play and short memory, two things Glenn likes in a cornerback.

This should be a fun competition to watch develop as soon as Moseley gets the all-clear to return in full.

View photos of the Detroit Lions defensive backs heading into training camp.

Twentyman's take: Lions general manager Brad Holmes made reshaping Detroit's secondary his biggest priority this offseason after the team ranked 32nd in total defense and 30th against the pass in 2022.

The one thing that really stands out about this group of cornerbacks is their versatility. Gardner-Johnson, Sutton, Branch (who the team selected in the second round), Harris and Jacobs can play multiple different roles depending on the defensive package. That gives Glenn some flexibility with his calls.

It will be interesting to see how Glenn decides to use Gardner-Johnson, Harris and Branch, three players who can all play the nickel at a high level. How will he mix in Branch and Harris in particular?

Can youngsters like Thomas, Lucas, Gilmore or others carve out a roster spot in a crowded room? Thomas was very impressive in OTAs and minicamp.

For Glenn and the Lions it's a good problem to have. This is now a much deeper and more versatile cornerback group with proven playmakers.

One thing is certain: It would be extremely disappointing if Detroit wasn't substantially better in pass defense in 2023 with the upgrades they made at cornerback this offseason via free agency and the NFL Draft.

By the numbers:

77.39: Opponent passer rating when the Lions blitzed last season. It was the second lowest passer rating in the NFL in blitzing situations.

5: Interception returns of 20-plus yards for the Lions in 2022.

50: Percent of red zone third down conversions allowed by Detroit's defense last year. That tied for 29th in the league.

6: Interceptions in 12 games for Gardner-Johnson in 2022, which tied for the NFL lead.

60: Completions of 20-plus yards for opponents against the Lions' defense last season. The average among last year's playoff teams was 49.

32: Total pressures generated by Detroit defensive backs in 2022, which ranked second behind only the New York Giants (44) and Kansas City Chiefs (41).

1,782: Of the 4,446 passing yards allowed by Detroit last season, only 1,782 yards came after the catch (40.1 percent). That ranked as the sixth fewest YAC yards allowed in the NFL.

Quotable: "Coming here you just see a young team that has a lot of veteran presence now that's ready to lead them," Gardner-Johnson said this spring. "I think all of us are just feeding off each other and seeing what we have is something that's very impressive."

Related Content