Detroit Free Press

Lions may have brightest future in the NFL

Youth, foundation puts team among favorites

- Jared Ramsey

The Detroit Lions reached the NFC championsh­ip game with one of the youngest cores in the NFL.

So it should come as no surprise that the Lions are one of the 2024 Super Bowl favorites early in the offseason with nearly all of the team returning and could remain a contender for the foreseeabl­e future.

The Lions built their strong foundation through the draft under general manager Brad Holmes, transformi­ng the Lions from a sad franchise to one with hope. The team’s young contributo­rs have quickly turned into some of the best players in the NFL at their respective positions. And Detroit is being recognized for that young talent.

On Monday, Pro Football Focus released a list of the top 25 NFL players under the age of 25 and the Lions led the way with five players listed, according to PFF grades. Right tackle Penei Sewell, who signed a contract extension last month to become the highest-paid offensive

lineman in the league, checked in at No. 1 on the list. Still 23, Sewell has an argument as the best offensive lineman in the NFL, regardless of age, coming off a first-team All-Pro 2023 season.

“Although Sewell has already played three seasons in the NFL, he is still only 23 years old and will not turn 24 until October,” PFF wrote. “His 3,359 regularsea­son snaps over the past three seasons rank second among all players, and he is on his way to becoming the best offensive lineman in the league. The Oregon product’s 92.8 PFF overall grade and 95.1 PFF run-blocking grade both led all NFL offensive linemen in 2023.”

Defensive end Aidan Hutchinson is the Lions’ other top-10 player, coming in at No. 6 just behind safety Kyle Hamilton and ahead of quarterbac­k C.J. Stroud. Wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown (No. 11), who also signed an extension the same day as Sewell, tight end Sam LaPorta (No. 19) and running back Jahmyr Gibbs round out Detroit’s representa­tion on the list.

St. Brown was the other Lion to receive first-team All-Pro honors after finishing with 119 catches for 1,515 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. LaPorta, a second-round pick in 2023, was a second-team All-Pro thanks to his historic rookie season at tight end, finishing with a record-breaking 86 catches for 889 yards and 10 touchdowns. Gibbs, the No. 12 pick in the 2023 draft, was one of the last additions on the list after his Pro Bowl rookie season where he racked up 1,261 scrimmage yards, including 945 rushing, and 11 total touchdowns while splitting backfield time with David Montgomery.

Hutchinson, the only Detroit defensive player represente­d, built off a promising rookie season to earn a Pro Bowl berth in his sophomore campaign. The Dearborn Divine Child and Michigan football product started every game at defensive end, finishing with 11.5 sacks and 51 total tackles while producing 110 pressures according to PFF while commanding double teams.

The Lions are one of five teams to have multiple players represente­d on PFF’s list and had two more than the next team, the Houston Texans, who had three players with Stroud at No. 7, edge Will Anderson Jr. at No. 14 and cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. at No. 23. The Jets have two players — corner and Detroit King alumnus Sauce Gardner at No. 2 and wide receiver Garrett Wilson at No. 9 — in the top 10. The Ravens have Hamilton at No. 5 and center Tyler Linderbaum at 20, and the Atlanta Falcons have two offensive weapons, running back Bijan Robinson at No. 16 and tight end Kyle Pitts at No. 25, to round out teams with multiple players represente­d.

The young players, primarily on offense, have been a major reason for the Lions’ jump into the upper echelon of the NFL and will now try to cross the finish line with this group after coming up just short in 2023. Holmes used the team’s 2024 early draft capital to address issues with the secondary, a recurring Achilles’ heel in recent seasons, with hopes of adding to the fantastic five above who are already establishe­d difference-makers.

 ?? JUNFU HAN/DETROIT FREE PRESS ?? Lions running back Jahmyr Gibbs, right, celebrates a touchdown against 49ers with quarterbac­k Jared Goff on on Jan. 28.
JUNFU HAN/DETROIT FREE PRESS Lions running back Jahmyr Gibbs, right, celebrates a touchdown against 49ers with quarterbac­k Jared Goff on on Jan. 28.

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