4 underrаted Detroіt Lіons plаyers wһo could mаke а mаssіve іmpаct next seаson - Sport News

4 underrаted Detroіt Lіons plаyers wһo could mаke а mаssіve іmpаct next seаson

The Detroit Lions delivered on their preseason hype in 2023, winning the NFC North, winning a couple playoff games and having a big halftime lead in the NFC Championship Game. Of course we know how the rest of the conference title game went. It has left an “unfinished business” taste in the mouths of players and coaches looking toward the 2024 season.

If the Lions are going to take the next step to the Super Bowl next season, or maybe even win it if they get there, it will be largely on the strength of the players who are easily-named performing as expected.

But success is not had, and championships are not won, without contributions from those who aren’t stars or broadly expected to be big contributors making a difference. It may be a single crucial moment, a stretch of games, or even the whole season, where these kind of unheralded players step up and make an impact.

With that in mind, these four underrated Lions’ players could make a big impact next season.

4 underrated Detroit Lions who could make a massive impact next season
4. S Ifeatu Melifonwu
With a lingering hand injury finally behind him, Melifonwu fully stepped into the starting lineup for the Lions in Week 14 last season. To say he delivered would be an understatement.

He was solid all the way around, but he was a particular weapon as a blitzer over that stretch (five sacks, including the playoffs). He was Pro Football Focus’ seventh-highest graded safety in the league from Week 14 through the Divisional Round of the playoffs (80.3 overall), which made him easy for PFF to tab as their early breakout candidate for the Lions in 2024.

Injuries have been the big storyline for Melifonwu through his first three seasons, along with a position switch. He has to prove he can do what he did late last season over a full and healthy season, but the opportunity will be there as long as he can stay on the field. A full-fledged breakout is not out of the question.

3. WR Donovan Peoples-Jones
After being acquired from the Cleveland Browns at last year’s trade deadline, Peoples-Jones did not make an impact (five catches in eight regular season games). But as a sign of what they think of him, the Lions re-signed the Michigan product with a view of him as a “rising player.”

At the NFL meetings this week, Dan Campbell talked about the obvious benefit Peoples-Jones will have with a full offseason to learn the Lions’ offense.

“He’ll have a better understanding of what we’re doing (when) we go into camp,” Campbell said. “And so I think what it does it just gives us somebody that we know can play the position. He’s a bigger-body guy, too, so he’s a little different than anybody we’ve got.”

With Josh Reynolds now officially gone in free agency, opportunity is knocking loudly for Peoples-Jones. He has had one season of notable production in four NFL seasons (61 catches for 839 yards with the Browns in 2022). But it’s also fair to say the quarterback play he’s had has not been stellar. Jared Goff is the best quarterback he has played with, and of course to this point he has barely played with the Lions’ signal caller.

If the Lions don’t use an early draft pick on a wide receiver, or sign a veteran to replace Reynolds, the runway for Peoples-Jones to emerge next season will be fully cleared. Even if his role is smaller that it looks like it could be right now, there should be room for Peoples-Jones to make some impactful plays next season.

2. DT Alim McNeill
McNeill worked hard to get in better shape last offseason, clearly eyeing a third-year breakout. It indeed paid off with a breakout 2023 campaign, with five sacks and 34 quarterback pressures (according to Pro Football Focus). His season would have been even better if he hadn’t missed four games with a knee injury. In an intangible sense, a young defensive linemate clearly noticed how the work he did last offseason paid off with performance.

McNeill was PFF’s seventh-highest graded interior defensive lineman last season (86.8), as the site named him their most improved player and the “secret superstar” for the Lions in 2023.

McNeill is largely an unknown, in a national sense. If he takes another step next season, which is definitely possible (if not likely), that will change quickly and perhaps pay off in his first career Pro Bowl selection. With DJ Reader added next to him in free agency, McNeill’s job stands to be a lot easier in 2024.

1. CB Amik Robertson
The Lions added two cornerbacks in the first few days of free agency, and it’s fair to say the signing of Robertson inspired a little bit of “who’s that?”

Robertson became a starter for the Raiders over the last two seasons, in line with a coaching staff change in Las Vegas. Last season, according to Pro Football Focus, Robertson allowed 40 catches on 64 targets for 445 yards and three touchdowns, with two interceptions and an 85.7 passer rating allowed (406 coverage snaps).

At 5-foot-8, Robertson is too easy to pigeonhole as a slot corner. But he plays bigger, he’s actually better-suited to playing outside. He spent most of his time playing outside corner over his last two seasons with the Raiders.

A look at Robertson’s Twitter feed shows he does not lack for confidence. Speaking to reporters after his signing was official, he made it more outwardly clear what he’ll bring to the Lions’ secondary.

“That’s what’s got me here and that’s what’s keeping me here in this league,” Robertson said of the swagger he plays with on the field. “You know 5-8 coming from Louisiana Tech. Come on, man, it’s not easy. But being a confident guy and playing with that swagger and playing with that energy that’s what got me here. That can be contagious.”

As of right now, Robertson is the projected starter opposite fellow new acquisition Carlton Davis. Emmanuel Moseley is his current competition for that spot, coming of a torn ACL in back-to-back seasons. A rookie feels likely to be added in the draft, especially after the recent release of Cameron Sutton.

However the Lions’ cornerback depth chart ultimately looks, Robertson is in line to counted on for a big role next season. If he can be productive and add a dose of swagger to the secondary, he will be all-around very impactful.

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