Less than two weeks away from the 2018 NFL Draft, let’s look at the Detroit Lions’ defensive backs. This has been a position of need for the Lions as long as most fans can remember. It has routinely been a topic of discussion in nearly every offseason. The great Lions defensive backs date back to the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Dick “Night Train” Lane, Dick LeBeau, Yale Lary, Jack Christiansen and Lem Barney live in Lions history as all-time greats.
Barney immediately made an impact and laid the foundation for his legacy in his rookie season. In the first quarter of his first game, he intercepted a pass from Bart Starr (quarterback of the hated Packers), which he ran back for a touchdown. He finished his rookie season with 10 interceptions, three in the final game against the Minnesota Vikings. Barney won Defensive Rookie of the Year and made his first Pro Bowl. In 1992, the Pro Football Hall of Fame added him to their collection of busts. Furthermore, in 2004, he had his No. 20 retired to honor fellow Lion greats, Barry Sanders and Billy Sims. The No. 20 in Honolulu blue could quite possibly be the greatest number to be shared by all-time legends in their sport.
With a solid group of players returning and free agent signee DeShawn Shead from Seattle, the Lions secondary does not appear to be a great position of need. There are some unanswered questions however, with the largest being if Teez Tabor can develop into a viable corner opposite Darius “Big Play” Slay.
Once again, a new face graces the coaching staff. This time at the defensive back position.
Brian Stewart is the new man in charge of quite possibly the best position room on the Lions defense. Stewart comes to Detroit from Rice University where he was the defensive coordinator in 2017. Prior to that, from 2015-16 he was the defensive backs coach at Nebraska. He also spent time as the defensive coordinator at the University of Houston (2010-11) and Maryland (2012-14). He even has two years of NFL experience as a defensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys from 2007-08.
Stewart has not produced a ton of overwhelming success stories in his coaching career, but he has worked his way to the highest level of coaching defenses. He has plenty of experience coaching defensive backs dating back to 1997 at San Jose State.
notable returning players
Cornerbacks – Darius Slay Jr., Quandre Diggs, Nevin Lawson, Teez Tabor, Jamal Agnew
Darius Slay leads the group of cornerbacks and has become a top-five corner in the league over the past two seasons. His big-play ability has earned him this recognition. The defense appears to play with greater intensity and tenacity in pursuit of the ball when he is on the field. Based on NFL1000 player rankings from the 2017 season, Slay is the third best corner in the NFL with 85/100 for his overall grade.
Quandre Diggs surged onto the scene last season and made a name for himself around the league. His ability to cover from the slot and provide run support make him a great asset to Matt Patricia’s defense. It is like running a 4-3 scheme where one of the linebackers can also cover slot receivers.
Let’s not forget the intensity with which he hits. He may very well be the most underrated player on the defense. In fact, NFL1000 rated him as the third best slot defender in 2017 with an overall grade of 75/100. That is impressive for a guy who was not even on opposing offense’s radar prior to 2017. He easily could win most improved player in the NFL.
Lawson, Tabor and Agnew will all be competing for the spot opposite Slay, and it appears the frontrunners are Lawson and Tabor. Agnew will continue making his impact on special teams with some appearances on defense. He became a great draft steal as he showed great playmaking ability in the return game. Also, expect newcomer DeShawn Shead to be in the mix with Lawson and Tabor.
Safeties – Glover Quin, Tavon Wilson, Miles Killebrew
Glover Quin is one of the best safeties in the game today. His ability to play center field and cover so much ground is his most impressive trait. He plays the position with the attributes of a corner. His speed and agility in coverage, combined with his prowess in making tackles in open space, make him a nightmare for opposing defenses. In the NFL1000 rankings by position, Quin was rated as the fourth best free safety (78/100).
Tavon Wilson and Miles Killebrew make an intriguing tandem of strong safeties. They finished 34th and 35th respectively in NFL1000 strong safety rankings, both scoring 67/100. Wilson is more of a coverage type of safety while Killebrew belongs in the box supporting the run game. This complementary style of football they share allows them to both earn a spot on the roster.
DeShawn Shead comes over from Seattle and is a leading candidate to earn the spot opposite Darius Slay. If he earns the starting spot, his size will help in dealing with some larger receivers as he stands at 6-foot-2 and has the agility to cover. He needs to develop his hand placement and hopefully the Lions are able to help him in this area. If so, he could very well become a great player for years to come in the Motor City. When the Lions find their second corner, they will be a powerful defense and tough to gameplan against.
Shead also brings special teams experience into the mix as he was a captain for the Seahawks. He comes to Detroit with high praise from Seahawks coach, Pete Carroll. Carroll commended Shead’s work ethic and his willingness to do whatever it took to win. According to Carroll, Shead never complained and did all that was asked of him.
Defensive back was a strong point for the Lions defense last season. Matt Patricia has some great pieces to play with in his scheme. This group needs to lead by example and help elevate the Lions to new heights. Therefore, Patricia, Paul Pasqualoni and Stewart should look for the leadership of Quin and Slay to continue to drive not only the defense, but the entire team.
Featured image from USA Today
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