Derrick Barnes

Lions Notes: LBs, Gibbs, Branch

The Lions had two picks in the first round of the 2023 draft, and they used both of them on non-premium positions. Detroit selected running back Jahmyr Gibbs with the No. 12 overall pick and added inside linebacker Jack Campbell with the No. 18 selection.

As the first off-ball ‘backer taken in the draft, it was fair to expect that Campbell would immediately be inserted into the starting lineup alongside veteran Alex Anzalone, who signed a three-year, $18.75MM deal in March to remain with the Lions. However, it became clear that such an assumption was a bit premature. 2021 fourth-rounder Derrick Barnes impressed during OTAs, while Campbell acknowledged that he was perhaps trying to do too much in his first taste of the pros (via Tim Twentyman of the team’s official website).

“I came in and I felt like maybe I was pressing a little bit early on,” Campbell said yesterday. “But right now, I’m just trying to settle down. My personality type I like to make sure everything is perfect. I just need to understand that mistakes are going to happen and as long as I’m playing fast everything is going to work out.”

While Barnes has earned the starting job next to Anzalone, defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn made it clear that the team’s top four LBs — a group that also includes 2022 sixth-rounder Malcolm Rodriguez — will see plenty of action. Campbell showed off his tackling ability in Detroit’s preseason slate, and given the club’s investment in him, it is certainly possible that his snap share will increase as the regular season unfolds.

Gibbs, meanwhile, split first-team training camp reps with free agent acquisition and former division rival David Montgomery and will start the year as the pass-catching complement to Montgomery (he will likely get his fair share of carries as well). Offensive coordinator Ben Johnson told reporters, including Twentyman, that, “we might use Gibbs in some ways that people don’t quite think we might,” though it’s unclear exactly what that means. Most are already expecting Gibbs to line up as a receiver, but perhaps he could line up as a quarterback in the Wildcat formation (or maybe, with the season set to kick off on Thursday against the Super Bowl champion Chiefs, Johnson is simply engaging in a little misdirection).

Another rookie, Brian Branch, has secured the starting nickel corner job, per Twentyman. The second-round pick out of Alabama began taking first-team reps at the position after C.J. Gardner-Johnson suffered a knee injury early in training camp, and he immediately impressed. GM Brad Holmes, who engineered a trade-up to land Branch, said that the team had a first-round grade on the defensive back.

“He fits who we are, so you don’t know exactly how quick it’s going to turn on, but we’re not surprised that he’s making the plays because he’s doing, really a lot of the same things that he did at Alabama,” Holmes said.

Branch’s emergence will presumably allow the team to move Gardner-Johnson to safety, where he thrived with the Eagles in 2022.

Latest On Lions’ LB Competition

Expectations will be raised on defense for the Lions in 2023 given the unit’s struggles through much of last year and the team’s investments on that side of the ball this offseason. Those endeavors have set up a notable training camp competition at the linebacker spot.

The Lions have Alex Anzalone in place as an entrenched starter after he parlayed his highly-productive 2022 campaign into a three-year, $18.75MM deal in March. A repeat of his career year would go a long way in helping Detroit make the needed improvements on defense to put the team in postseason contention. Who will be alongside him in the starting lineup remains unclear, however.

The Lions doubled down on their selections of non-premium positions in the first round of the draft by selecting Jack Campbell with the No. 18 pick. That decision made the Iowa product the top off-ball linebacker in the 2023 class, and led to the expectation he would be a plug-and-play starter. OTAs and minicamp demonstrated that the team’s veterans seemed to be in the lead, though, and Campbell still has a long road to a first-team position.

“Probably in 20 other rooms that player is starting and there’s nothing you can do about it as a position coach,” linebackers coach Kelvin Sheppard said of Campbell, via Tim Twentyman of the team’s website“Well, that’s not the case here. If Jack isn’t the top two or three Jack will continue to go through the process of rookie development until he’s hit that mark.”

Detroit also has 2021 fourth-round pick Derrick Barnes and 2022 sixth-rounder Malcolm Rodriguez as options for a starting role. The latter missed signficant time during the spring, allowing the former to take first-team reps alongside Anzalone. Rodriguez proved himself to be productive as a rookie, though, totaling 87 tackles, one sack and a forced fumble despite logging only a 57% snap share. Increasing his workload this year could come as a result of a strong training camp, and doing so would consign Campbell to a special teams role to start the year.

After a standout college career, Campbell (like fellow first-rounder Jahmyr Gibbs) will need to perform at a high level to justify the Lions’ investment in him – and their avoidance of other, potentially more attractive options based on position – in the eyes of many evaluators. His pro tenure will no doubt involve a heavy workload at some point, but he finds himself behind Rodriguez and Barnes on the depth chart heading into his first training camp.

NFC North Rumors: Campbell, Bears, Addison, Cook

When the Lions made Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell the first off-ball linebacker taken in the 2023 NFL Draft at No. 18 overall, the assumption by many was that he would be starting as a rookie next to Alex Anzalone and Malcolm Rodriguez in Detroit. According to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, those assumptions may have been a bit premature.

Lions linebackers coach Kelvin Sheppard asserted earlier this month that, in Detroit, they intend to start the best players. Aside from Anzalone and Rodriguez, Derrick Barnes is the team’s top returning linebacker. He was third in the position room in tackles and started four games for the Lions last year.

Sheppard would very much like Campbell to slot in as a starting linebacker, but he made it clear that Barnes is not going to go away quietly. While Rodriguez deals with a leg injury, Barnes has worked with the first team alongside Anzalone this spring. If Campbell is going to break the starting lineup in Week 1, he’s going to have to show that he can outperform Barnes. Until then, he is going to have to continue in his rookie development.

Here are a few other rumors from the NFC North, starting with a position battle out in the Windy City:

  • The Bears finished last in the league last year in team sacks with 20 total for the season. Their prospects in 2023 may not be much brighter. According to Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun-Times, Dominique Robinson and Trevis Gipson will be competing for a starting spot at defensive end this summer. Robinson had 1.5 sacks in the season opener last year but failed to register another for the rest of the season. Gipson racked up two sacks in Week 2 of 2022 but only had one the rest of the year. As of right now, one of those two will be starting next season. Chicago would either like to see improvement in their production this year or would like to sign another end to provide more competition.
  • Vikings first-round pick Jordan Addison‘s rookie development has been put on hold a bit as he deals with a minor injury, according to ESPN’s Kevin Seifert. Head coach Kevin O’Connell said that he expects Addison to be fully recovered by training camp. In the meantime, Addison has reportedly been “asking great questions” and been “phenomenal in meetings” as he continues to learn.
  • While former Vikings running back Dalvin Cook‘s free agency has been the story as of late, he has experienced some recent legal victories, according to Mike Florio of NBC Sports. Back in November of 2021, Gracelyn Trimble sued Cook for injuries from alleged assault, battery, and false imprisonment. Cook filed a counterclaim against Trimble accusing her and her lawyers of invasion of privacy and defamation. While both cases are still pending, Cook’s complaint will go to trial, which could lead to positive outcomes for both cases.