Who Will Be the Odd Man Out at Linebacker?


After coming up just short of the playoffs last year, the Detroit Lions are now the betting favorites in the NFC North and hope to enter the postseason for the first time since 2016. General manager Brad Holmes and head coach Dan Campbell used free agency to fill needs, but their 2023 draft class was met with confusion. Detroit now has overlapping talent at several positions, which could lead to a few intriguing training camp competitions.

Top Detroit Lions Training Camp Battles To Watch

Linebacker | Jack Campbell vs. Alex Anzalone vs. Malcolm Rodriguez

The Lions appeared set at linebacker heading into the 2023 offseason. Malcolm Rodriguez starred on Hard Knocks and shined as a sixth-round rookie, while Detroit re-signed Alex Anzalone to a three-year deal worth $6.25 million annually.

And then the Lions decided to use the 18th overall pick on Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell.

It seems inconceivable that Campbell, who won the Nagurski–Woodson Defensive Player of the Year Award while earning unanimous All-American honors last season, won’t be able to force his way into the starting lineup. Off-ball linebackers are rarely chosen in the first round in the modern NFL, so Detroit likely feels he can be an immediate contributor.

“His football intelligence and his passion for the game — it is as good as it gets,” Holmes said of Campbell after the draft. “It’s elite in every category.”

But who comes off the field? The Lions are unlikely to put Anazlone on the bench just months after handing him $9 million in guarantees, which means Rodriguez could be in line to become a reserve. That’s a difficult reality given his production as the 188th selection in the 2022 draft, but Detorit’s investments at linebacker speak for themselves.

Of course, Campbell, Anzalone, and Rodriguez will all play in base sets, but most NFL teams run nickel packages on more than 60% of their defensive plays. Someone will be the odd man out, and all signs point to Rodriguez.

Halapoulivaati Vaitai (72) during warmups.

Right Guard | Halapoulivaati Vaitai vs. Graham Glasgow

The Lions fielded one of the NFL’s best offensive lines in 2022 and did so without the services of Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who missed the entire season with a back injury and subsequent surgery. Vaitai entered the offseason as a release candidate, but he’ll stick around after accepting a $6.4 million pay cut and voiding the 2024 season of his contract.

With Vaitai sidelined, Detroit used a bevy of replacements at right guard. Evan Brown, who led the team with 700 right guard snaps, is now with the Seahawks, but Vaitai will face competition for his starting role in the form of Graham Glasgow.

“Obviously, there are question marks or were question marks about (Vaitai’s) health and all of that,” Holmes said in March. “To get Glasgow in the fold — and Glasgow is a guy that’s got positional versatility, as well. Obviously, we all know about his ability at guard, but the stuff that he did at center on tape last year was really exciting. It’s good to have that competition, and it should be good.”

Glasgow spent the first four years of his career with the Lions and played all three interior line positions. As things stand, he’s probably in line to become Detroit’s backup at guard and center. But he’ll have every opportunity to use training camp to push Vaitai for a starting job. Vaitai can also play tackle, so he would offer positional versatility as a reserve, too.

Cornerback | Jerry Jacobs vs. Emmanuel Moseley’s Health

After ranking 30th in defensive pass efficiency last season, the Lions weren’t shy about using the offseason to fortify their secondary. Cam Sutton and Emmanuel Moseley were brought in to play cornerback, while versatile safeties C.J. Gardner-Johnson and Brian Branch were also added to Detroit’s defensive backfield.

Sutton’s three-year, $33 million deal will lock him into a starting spot. But Moseley only received $6 million on a one-year contract and is still recovering from the ACL injury he suffered in Week 5 of the 2022 campaign.

Moseley was able to participate in a walkthrough during Detroit’s minicamp. It’s difficult to assess how significant of a step that was for Moseley, given that the Lions weren’t wearing pads or making contact, but the fact that he was on the field is a positive sign.

Moseley has had trouble staying healthy throughout his career. A knee issue and a high-ankle sprain cost him games in 2021, while a concussion and a hamstring strain were problems in 2020.

If Moseley suffers a setback, Jerry Jacobs is the next man up on Detroit’s depth chart. Jacobs, who has started 17 games for the Lions after making the team as an undrafted free agent in 2021, could compete for a starting role even if Moseley is healthy.

“Why is (Jacobs) still here? Because he’s a damn good player,” Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said in May.” (We expect) him to go out there and compete with the other guys that we brought in. We’ll let that shake out. If he wins it, he wins it. If he doesn’t, he’ll understand what his role will be.”

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