Two Detroit Lions expected to be best at their NFL positions

With their run to the NFC Championship Game last season, the Detroit Lions proved that they’re one of the NFL’s very best teams.

As a result, they’ve gained the respect of the league’s pundits and are now largely viewed as one of the favorites to represent the NFC in Super Bowl LIX. 

Along the way, Detroit’s core players have also begun to garner more and more respect from the rest of the league.

The most recent example of such came this week when ESPN NFL analyst Mike Clay released his “2024 NFL Projection Guide.” In it, he not only projected the Lions to capture the NFC North, with a projected 10.6-win season. But, he also listed second-year pros Sam LaPorta and Brian Branch as the No. 1 players at their respective positions.

Last season, LaPorta, the No. 34 overall pick in the 2023 draft, caught the most passes by a rookie tight end in league history (86), plus became just the third rookie at the aforementioned position to amass at least 10 receiving touchdowns. On top of all that, he produced 889 yards, the fifth-highest total by a tight end in ‘23. 

Undeniably, the future is bright for the Iowa product, and Clay agrees. He has him penciled in for 84 receptions, 860 yards and seven touchdowns in his second season as a pro.

Clay is equally high on Branch’s 2024 prospects. 

Branch – the No. 45 overall pick in last year’s draft – lined up at slot corner, and impressively recorded three interceptions and 13 passes defensed in his debut NFL season. Plus, he earned a 78.1 overall Pro Football Focus grade for his efforts. 

Despite Branch’s success at nickel corner a season ago, he’s expected to also log reps at safety in 2024. It’s due to the fact that Detroit reshaped its cornerbacks room and lost veteran safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson in free agency this offseason.

Nonetheless, Clay believes that the Alabama product will total 97 tackles, including eight tackles for loss, two sacks and 2.4 interceptions this upcoming season.

Along with the NFL analyst’s lofty projections for LaPorta and Branch, he has the Lions’ offensive line ranked as the No. 1 unit in the league. Plus, he has Detroit’s running backs ranked second, its interior defensive line ranked second and its cornerbacks group ranked sixth.

Here’s a sample of where Clay has some other notable Lions ranked among the rest of the league headed into the ‘24 campaign.

QB Jared Goff: 22nd

RB Jahmyr Gibbs: 7th 

RB David Montgomery: 21st

WR Amon-Ra St. Brown: 5th

WR Jameson Williams: 57th

WR Kalif Raymond: 92nd

WR Donovan Peoples-Jones: 140th 

DT Alim McNeill: 31st

DT D.J. Reader: 41st

EDGE Aidan Hutchinson: 8th

EDGE Marcus Davenport: 75th

LB Alex Anzalone: 24th

LB Jack Campbell: 47th

CB Carlton Davis: 40th

CB Terrion Arnold: 63rd

S Kerby Joseph: 36th

S Ifeatu Melifonwu: 60th

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