Detroit Lions 2023 Review: Hutchinson Elite, McNeill Breaks Through

Hutchinson, McNeill anchor Lions' defensive line.

For Aidan Hutchinson, the eye-popping results weren't always visible in 2023. 

The second-year edge rusher was impactful in his role, but went through a midseason swoon in which he recorded just two sacks over a 10-game stretch. 

Then, Hutchinson found his groove and reminded everyone why Detroit was ecstatic to land him with the second overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. 

Beginning with a three-sack game in Week 17, Hutchinson notched eight sacks over his final five games, including playoffs. He finished the regular season with 11.5, and had three more in the playoffs. 

Hutchinson led the NFL in total pressures ahead of Sunday's Super Bowl, with Nick Bosa beginning the game trailing him by 11. It was ultimately a solid campaign for the second-year player.

Here's a look at where the Lions stand on the defensive line heading into the offseason. 

Reason for hope

Hutchinson has one side of the defensive line anchored down. He faced increased attention in his second season and still managed to cause havoc on opposing quarterbacks. 

His growth wasn't the only significant development up front, however. Alim McNeill was well on his way to a Pro Bowl campaign before suffering a knee injury in Week 13 against New Orleans. 

McNeill underwent significant changes to his training regimen and diet over the offseason and reaped the benefits of reporting to camp lighter and more athletic. As he undergoes a full offseason with this new frame, he has exciting potential in 2024. 

Elsewhere, the Lions will get James Houston back healthy after he suffered an ankle injury in Week 2 that held him out until the NFC Championship. He flashed in a big way in 2022, so there's optimism about his future working opposite Hutchinson. 

On the interior, the Lions will have a new face leading the room in the form of Terrell Williams. The experienced coach comes with an excellent reputation and has developed talents such as Jeffrey Simmons while with the Titans. 

Williams' presence will be big for the growth of both Levi Onwuzurike and Brodric Martin. Injuries have limited Onwuzurike, who will finally enter an offseason healthy, and Martin played very little in his rookie season. 

Josh Paschal and John Cominsky both showed promise as the defensive end opposite Hutchinson, predominately against the run. Paschal was solid when healthy, and Cominsky executed his rotational role well. 

Related: Pros and Cons of Lions Trading for Haason Reddick

Reason for worry

The Lions finished tied-for-23rd in the league in sacks, as rushers outside of Hutchinson struggled to get home and finish plays. Outside of Hutchinson, McNeill was the only defensive lineman to record more than three sacks. 

Detroit cycled through edge rushers this season, as Charles Harris, Romeo Okwara and Julian Okwara all got opportunities. None showed massive promise. 

Julian Okwara was eventually waived before being resigned to the practice squad in the postseason, while Harris was a healthy scratch down the stretch. All three will be free agents this offseason. 

The depth needs work all across the defensive line. While Detroit will have to decide on free agents at edge, the interior has potential options. Onwuzurike and Martin have plenty of potential, but neither has gotten a ton of opportunities for different reasons. 

How both of those players develop ahead of next season could go a long way toward whether or not the Lions have enough interior depth to make significant noise defensively. 

Biggest question

Who will start opposite Hutchinson at defensive end? The Lions have options, but could also explore the free agency and draft markets to bolster the depth. 

Of the available options on roster, Houston and Paschal both have compelling cases. Houston's ability to bend around the edge and beat offensive tackles is exceptional, as evidenced by his eight sacks in seven games in 2022. 

Paschal, meanwhile, showed an ability to suppress opposing run games. He missed time after a stint on injured reserve, but had five tackles for loss in 12 games. Paschal also logged seven pressures in three playoff games. 

The Lions could also explore the free agency route when it comes to pass rushers. Josh Allen, Danielle Hunter and Brian Burns are all appealing options that will be free agents. However, those players will command expensive contracts in an offseason where the Lions could hand out multiple hefty extensions. 

If Detroit elects to add through the Draft, top options include UCLA's Laiatu Latu and Alabama's Dallas Turner. 

Free agents

  • DT Tyson Alualu (Unrestricted free agent)
  • DE Charles Harris (Unrestricted free agent)
  • DE Romeo Okwara (Unrestricted free agent)
  • DT Benito Jones (Restricted free agent)
  • DE James Houston (Exclusive rights free agent)

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