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TWENTYMAN: Top rookies Lions will face in 2023

New York Jets cornerback Sauce Gardner and Seattle cornerback Tariq Woolen made immediate impacts for their clubs in 2022, earning Pro Bowl bids in their first season in the league. The Lions faced both rookies last season. Gardner was the Defensive Rookie of the Year. Woolen returned a touchdown for an interception in that wild Week 4 shootout in Detroit.

There were a number of rookies who made significant impacts for their teams a season ago. Who will emerge as the top rookies in the NFL this year?

Here's a look at some of the top rookies the Lions will face in 2023:

1. QB Bryce Young, Carolina

Drafted: No. 1 overall

Young bio: A two-year starter at Alabama, Young became the first quarterback in school history to win the Heisman Trophy. The first Alabama player to throw for 3,000-plus yards in separate seasons, he set the single season school records for passing yards (4,872) and touchdowns (47), while finishing his career No. 2 in passing yards (8,356) and passing touchdowns (80).

How it affects Lions: The Lions get Carolina at home Week 5. Ford Field can be a tough place for a rookie signal caller to play early in their career because of the environment and noise level. Young will have a month's worth of starts under his belt by the time of this matchup, but Detroit's defense will look to pressure and confuse the young QB into making some mistakes.

When Lions face him: Week 5, Oct. 8 at home, 1 p.m.

View photos of Tim Twentyman's picks for the top rookies the Detroit Lions will face for the first time in 2023.

2. CB Devon Witherspoon, Seattle

Drafted: No. 5 overall

Witherspoon bio: A consensus All-American and the Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year in 2022, Witherspoon is a physical man-to-man corner who defended 26 passes in 22 games the last two seasons combined. He plays bigger than his 5-11, 185-pound frame might indicate.

How it affects Lions: Witherspoon was in the conversation for the Lions with their pick at No. 6 before Seattle took him at No. 5 and the Lions eventually moved back to No. 12. Can Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson find a way to use Witherspoon's aggressive nature against him in what will be just the second game of his NFL career?

When Lions face him: Week 2, Sept. 17 at home, 1 p.m.

3. RB Bijan Robinson, Atlanta

Drafted: No. 8 overall

Robinson bio: Robinson became the first Longhorn to rush for more than 1,500 yards and post more than 300 receiving yards in a single season in 2022. His 3,410 career rushing yards ranks fourth in school history behind Ricky Williams, Cedric Benson and Earl Campbell, who were all four-year players.

How it affects Lions: This will be an early matchup between the top two running backs taken in the draft in Robinson and Detroit's Jahmyr Gibbs, who went No. 12 overall. Both backs are expected to play key roles in the running and pass games. Atlanta's scheme was a good place for Robinson to land, and stopping him will be an early test for Detroit's 29th ranked rushing defense from a season ago.

When Lions face him: Week 3, Sept. 24 at home, 1 p.m.

4. EDGE Tyree Wilson, Las Vegas

Drafted: No. 7 overall

Wilson bio: Wilson led Texas Tech in tackles for loss and sacks in both his junior and senior seasons and his 22.3 percent pass-rush win rate ranked top 10 in the FBS in 2022. He's got a big frame (6-5, 274) and long arms (84.5 wingspan), and recorded 14.0 sacks and 27.5 tackles for the loss his last two seasons at Texas Tech combined.

How it affects Lions: Detroit has one of the best offensive lines in football and arguably one of the best tackle duos in Taylor Decker and Penei Sewell. It's usually tough sledding for edge rushers against those two, and Wilson will likely find his opportunities to get to quarterback Jared Goff few and far between. Still, his speed and power combo will be fun to watch.

When Lions face him: Week 8, Oct. 30 at home, 8:15 p.m. (Monday night)

5. T Darnell Wright, Chicago

Drafted: No. 10 overall

Wright bio: Wright didn't allow a sack in 2022 and played probably his best game against Alabama and their top edge rusher Will Anderson Jr. He finished his college career with 34 straight starts at guard and both tackle spots.

How it affects Lions: The Bears haven't used a first-round pick on an offensive lineman since 2013. Wright is already getting reps at right tackle with the first-team offense this offseason and he's expected to earn a starting spot coming out of camp. The offensive line has been a weakness in Chicago for years, and the Wright pick will help address that. Can he keep Aidan Hutchinson, Charles Harris, James Houston and the rest of Detroit's deep edge group away from quarterback Justin Fields?

When Lions face him: Week 11, Nov. 19 at home, 1 p.m. & Week 14, Dec. 10 at Chicago, 1 p.m.

6. DT Calijah Kancey, Tampa Bay

Drafted: No. 19 overall

Kancey bio: Kancey led all FBS defensive tackles in tackles for loss (14.5) in 2022 and became the school's first unanimous All-American since Aaron Donald. An amazing 46.8 percent of his tackles in 2022 came behind the line of scrimmage.

How it affects Lions: The worst pressure a quarterback can face is right up the middle, and that's what Kancey made a career of doing at Pittsburgh. It will be interesting to see if the Lions look to double team Kancey or attempt to neutralize him with one of their Pro Bowl interior blockers in Frank Ragnow or Jonah Jackson. Either way, expect offensive line coach Hank Fraley to have a good plan for Kancey.

When Lions face him: Week 6, Oct. 15 at Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.

7. EDGE Lukas Van Ness, Green Bay

Drafted: No. 13 overall

Van Ness bio: Van Ness led the Hawkeyes in tackles for loss (11.0) and sacks (6.5) despite not starting a game last year. Van Ness has terrific length (6-5, 271) and plays with great strength. He grew up playing hockey and credits that for his great footwork and agility.

How it affects Lions: Van Ness was a little different than some of the other edge rushers in this class in that his strength and power really stood out on tape. His game is all about power and effort, and sometimes players with those key traits can be the biggest thorn in a tackle's side.

When Lions face him: Week 4, Sept. 28 at Green Bay (Thursday night), 8:15 p.m. & Week 12, Nov. 23 at home (Thanksgiving), 12:30 p.m.

View photos of the Detroit Lions' alternate helmet.

8. WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Seattle

Drafted: No. 20 overall

Smith-Njigba bio: The 2022 season was nearly a lost year for Smith-Njigba because of his hamstring injury. He had a prolific 2021 season, however, with the Big Ten single-season record for receiving yards (1,606) and a Rose Bowl performance with an NCAA bowl-record 347 receiving yards.

How it affects Lions: The addition of Smith-Njigba gives the Seahawks a terrific receiving trio alongside DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. With quarterback Geno Smith coming off a Pro Bowl season in 2022, Detroit's revamped secondary will get a couple early-season tests between Kansas City Week 1 and Seattle Week 2.

When Lions face him: Week 2, Sept. 17 at home, 1 p.m.

9. TE Michael Mayer, Las Vegas

Drafted: No. 35 overall

Mayer bio: Mayer is the most prolific tight end in Notre Dame school history, setting records (both single-season and career) for catches, receiving yards and touchdowns. He caught 138 passes for 1,649 yards and 16 touchdowns the last two seasons combined.

How it affects Lions: Dalton Kincaid was the first tight end taken in the draft at No. 25 overall to Buffalo. Detroit's Sam LaPorta was next at No. 34, and Mayer came in one pick later at No. 35. Being just one pick apart, LaPorta and Mayer will be linked throughout their NFL careers. The Lions struggled at times defending the tight end position last year. Can defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn's unit limit Mayer on the national stage?

When Lions face him: Week 8, Oct. 30 at home, 8:15 p.m. (Monday night)

10. WR Jordan Addison, Minnesota

Drafted: No. 23 overall

Addison bio: Addison became the third Biletnikoff Award winner in Pitt history, joining Antonio Bryant (2000) and Larry Fitzgerald (2003) after catching 100 passes for 1,593 yards and 17 touchdowns as a sophomore. He transferred to USC last season and caught 59 passes for 875 yards and eight touchdowns with only two drops.

How it affects Lions: Justin Jefferson is arguably one of the best receivers in the game and someone the Lions have to prepare for twice a year. Veteran Adam Thielen has been a headache for Detroit for years but is no longer a Viking. Minnesota is hoping Jefferson and Addison can form a new dynamic duo in the Vikings 'offense. With Jefferson on one side, Addison is going to get his fair share of targets and opportunities to impress as a rookie.

When Lions face him: Week 16, Dec. 24 at Minnesota, 1 p.m. & Week 18, TBD at home, TBD

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