The Detroit Lions defeated the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 1. It was the type of win, coming on the road, that may signal a giant shift in the trajectory of this franchise. And if the Lions do indeed go onto a historic season, it could be on the backs and legs of a few rookie players.
In Week 1, four rookies made big impacts. Arguably the most pivotal play of the game came when defensive back Brain Branch retrieved a tipped pass and ran it back for a touchdown in the third quarter, Branch, who was drafted in the second round of the 2023 NFL Draft, also made three tackles. He’s clearly going to be important on the defensive side of the ball for the Lions.
But there’s more. Running back Jahmyr Gibbs, who was picked in the first round, was used in several offensive sets last Thursday against the Chiefs.
Gibbs had 70 all-purpose yards, 42 of them rushing. His second run was for 17 yards and showed off his stellar tackle-missing abilities. It’s likely the Lions will use Gibbs even more in future games.
"Gibbs is – he’s pretty electric, and he's only going to get better and he’s going to get a bigger piece of the pie as we move forward," Lions head coach Dan Campbell said after the win.
The Lions used their #18 pick in the last draft to pick linebacker Jack Campbell from Iowa. Some scratched their heads over the selection, feeling it was a little too early to use on a linebacker. But, in week one, Campbell played well in limited playing time. In the third quarter he laid out and broke up a pass attempt by Patrick Mahomes across the middle.
“I’m watching his tape and I’m like to me, he didn’t play like a rookie, which is encouraging,” head coach Campbell said. “Now, he’s got a few things to clean up, but that was pretty good. He was on it."
One of the most visible rookie performances on Thursday came from tight end Sam LaPorta. He started, played the entire game, and hauled in five passes for 39 yards. Most impressively, he caught every pass thrown to him by Jared Goff. He also showed off his ability to block from that position. For a team that’s been seeking a dual-threat TE, LaPorta seems to be that guy.
Lastly, offensive guard Colby Sorsdal saw some action in Week 1, but so far we don’t know how much the team will use the rookie. Still, he’s a talent, and could step into a starting role by next season. Right now, the Lions starting five on the O line is just too good to be overtaken.
If Detroit is to get back to the NFL Playoffs for the first time since 2016, they will need help from these rookies. The franchise is seeking its first win in the playoffs since 1991, but following a huge victory over the defending Super Bowl champs in Week 1, it’s possible that drought could be coming to an end soon.
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