1 Detroit Lions defender named Top 10 at their position

The Detroit Lions may not have a ton of superstars on their defense, but they should be better in 2023.

When it comes to the Detroit Lions, there is little question about it that the offense carried the team to a 9-8 record in 2022. But if the team really wants to take a step forward in 2023, the defense will have to do their part. Lions GM Brad Holmes added some key pieces to the defensive side of the ball during the offseason, including adding S C.J. Gardner-Johnson to the mix.

Detroit Lions C.J. Gardner-Johnson Kerby Joseph Kansas City Chiefs

1 Detroit Lions defender named Top 10 at their position

ESPN is in the process of releasing a series of articles in which they reveal how NFL scouts, executives, and coaches rank the Top 10 players at each position, and only one Lions' defensive player made the cut. On Wednesday, they concluded the defensive portion of their series as they published who NFL scouts, executives, and coaches believe are the Top 10 safeties in the league, and Lions safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson came in at No. 8 on the list.

“After three seasons as a hybrid slot corner/safety in New Orleans, the Eagles acquired Gardner-Johnson via trade and played him as a full-time strong safety last season.

The payoff: He tied for the league lead with six interceptions, despite missing five games due to injury.

Yet somehow a top-10 safety was available on a one-year, $6.5-million free agency deal to Detroit.

“Watch, he'll go to Detroit, make every play and get paid next year,” an NFC exec said. “It was his first year playing safety full-time so teams wanted to see him do it twice. People don't always trust what they see. But don't get it twisted, he's worth his weight in gold. He played at a super high level.”

Gardner-Johnson has an aggressive style of play — with his hitting and his talking — that a few voters characterized as an acquired taste. He's fiery and confident, which might rankle some. But those who have gotten to know him say he loves football and brings a much-needed edge to a locker room.

Hutchinson gets some love

Though no other Lions' defenders made the top 10 at their position, EDGE Aidan Hutchinson did receive an honorable mention.

“Hutchinson led all rookies with 9.5 sacks and had three interceptions and 52 tackles. “He's more than a try-hard guy,” an NFC executive said. “He made plays where he's baiting the quarterback into an interception by the sideline. He's an athlete.”

Chauncey Gardner-Johnson Detroit Lions Kansas City Chiefs C.J. Gardner-Johnson

Bottom Line: Will the Detroit Lions' defense rise up?

On paper, Lions' defense looks more talented than it did at any point during the 2022 season. Not only did they add Gardner-Johnson, Emmanuel Moseley, Cam Sutton, and Jack Campbell to the mix, but Aidan Hutchinson and Kerby Joseph should each take a step forward from Year 1 to Year 2. Time will tell, but if the Lions do their part in 2023, it is going to be a special season in the Motor City.