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    The Detroit Lions’ 2 Most Important Rookies in 2023

    If the Detroit Lions want to win the NFC North for the first time in franchise history, they''ll need contributions from rookies Jahmyr Gibbs and Brian Branch.

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    When the Detroit Lions selected former Alabama RB Jahmyr Gibbs with the first of their two first-round picks, it came as a fairly big surprise to some personnel sources from other teams since the Lions already signed veteran RB David Montgomery in free agency.

    Montgomery, who signed a three-year, $18 million deal with $8.75 million fully guaranteed, will be the starter, so why draft Gibbs?

    How the Detroit Lions Will Use Jahmyr Gibbs

    A source with knowledge of the situation said the Lions don’t look at Gibbs as just a running back. Rather, they view him as a multipurpose offensive player.

    Several teams Pro Football Network talked to leading up to this year’s NFL Draft had a first-round grade on Gibbs, but the question with some teams was whether he could be an every-down back.

    The Lions clearly aren’t concerned about that since they have a plan in mind — and that’s to take advantage of his obvious skill set.

    Gibbs, who caught 104 passes during his three college seasons (two with Georgia Tech and one with Alabama), offers something that Montgomery doesn’t: Raw speed (4.36 40-yard dash during the NFL Combine).

    Offensive coordinator Ben Johnson, who enters his second full season calling the plays, was asked about the test this week’s opponent (Kansas City Chiefs) will present Gibbs and Montgomery, who are playing together for the first time.

    “I think we’ve seen within our own setting — I think we’ve seen a lot of them, and we know what we’re going to expect out of both those guys. I think they are very — yes, they are complementary backs.

    “What [Montgomery] does well, Gibbs might not do as well, and vice versa, but I think they both are very versatile, so we might use Gibbs in some ways that people don’t quite think we might or Montgomery the same way. I’m really excited to see what they can do out on the field here this week, but we’re going to use them all over the place.”

    In addition to Gibbs, the team has big plans in mind for another rookie.

    The Lions’ Other Crucial Rookie in 2023

    Second-round pick Brian Branch was quickly installed as the team’s nickel defender early in training camp, and because of that, veteran DB C.J. Gardner-Johnson is slated to just play safety this season.

    Gardner-Johnson, who signed a one-year, $6.5 million deal back in March, played safety last season with the Philadelphia Eagles for the first time since his college days (2016-2018 Florida).

    Gardner-Johnson was known in personnel circles as one of the best nickel defenders in the NFL prior to his trade from the New Orleans Saints to the Eagles right before the start of last season.

    A source with knowledge of the situation said that Branch has been so impressive that despite his lack of speed, Branch showed he could easily transition to outside cornerback if need be.

    Branch dropped out of the first round mainly due to a slow 40-yard dash time (4.58) during this year’s NFL Combine but looked very smooth during training camp practices in coverage, which gives the team the belief he could play on the outside if called upon to do so.

    Also in the defensive backfield, the team surprisingly decided to activate veteran CB Emmanuel Moseley off the active/PUP list last week.

    MORE: Where Do Lions Fall in Week 1 Power Rankings?

    Around the middle of August, a source with knowledge of the situation said it seemed inevitable that Moseley, who was coming back from a torn ACL suffered with the San Francisco 49ers last season during their Week 5 game against the Carolina Panthers, would remain on PUP to start the season, which would put him out at least four games. He had not practiced since last October with the 49ers.

    However, Moseley, who signed a one-year, $6 million deal with the Lions, made strong progress over the last few weeks, which gave the team the belief that he was ready to start practicing. Players on the reserve/PUP list are prohibited from practicing.

    Moseley practiced for the first time with the team last Friday and took limited work on Monday.

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