The Lions Need A Playmaker At Safety!
The Detroit Lions safety position is an interesting one. The Lions use two very different types of safety. One plays as a center fielder type free safety, and the other is a more traditional strong safety, playing closer to the line of scrimmage. This has the advantage of allowing the team to utilize lesser players, those with holes in their game. It has the disadvantage of making the coverage slightly more predictable or putting players responsibilities outside their skill set. The Lions can utilize a greater number of players because of this demarcation between the two roles, they do not require a player to be extremely well rounded, just not a liability outside their specialty.
What Do The Lions Have At Safety?
Glover Quin has been the field general of the Lions secondary for years. He is known for turnover generation and keeping the Lions young secondary in position at all times. Quin has been a pro bowl level safety for the majority of his time in Detroit, but 2016 was a step down in play. Gone were the trademark impact plays, as Quin was forced to cover for the mistakes of others progressively more often. Was it the loss of James Ihedigbo and Isa Abdul Quddus? Those players had their limitations but knew the scheme inside out; Rafael Bush and Tavon Wilson did not. The other possibility is that father time is catching up with Quin. He is 31 years old and coming off his second consecutive offseason ankle surgery.
Tavon Wilson stepped in to the strong safety role in the second half of the season. He was merely decent however, not good. Miles Killebrew is a young athlete who filled the role of nickle linebacker more than safety when he took the field, but did as well as a rookie from the MAC can be expected to. The jump in competition level was too much for him and that’s not surprising. He did made some impact plays, and the Lions have reason to be hopeful that his development arc will continue in the right direction. But relying on him for a significant role in the secondary in 2017 presumes too much. Don Carey is technically a safety, but his impact is purely on special teams.
What Don’t The Lions Need At Safety?
Strong safety depth is not a problem for the Lions. They have Wilson and Killebrew on the roster, and bringing in a veteran backup would just be putting someone in the way of Killebrew’s development. Additions to the bottom of the strong safety depth chart are likely just camp bodies. At free safety the Lions certainly do not need to go out and spend big money in free agency. Quin had a down season, but so did the entire defense. another draft, and hopefully better health should sort that out.
What Do The Lions Need At Safety?
The Lions could stand to upgrade their starter at strong safety. Wilson is a fine stop gap, but is not a player that brings much impact to a game. He would be best slotted in as the third safety, and primary backup to both spots. The Lions may add a potential starter to the depth chart to avoid pushing Miles Killebrew in to a role he is not ready for. Wilson received a good grade from pro football focus, his 82.6 was highest among Detroit safeties, but there are better football players available.
At free safety the Lions need to have a contingency plan for the possibility that Quin is never going to go back to the 5+ interception player he was prior to 2016. His age is such that a drop off in play is incoming soon. He is also a free agent in 2018. The Lions need to find an option to replace him in the long term. That is likely more of a draft need than free agency priority however.
The Lions need to improve their strong safety play, but may not take a direct route to doing so. Quin has shown the ability to play both safety roles, and if he is losing a step would still be the lions best strong safety option. Adding a long term free safety could make sense because of Quin’s age. Free safeties cost more than strong safeties however. Because of the lower price tag I think the Lions will focus on adding strong safety help in free agency, and free safety help in the draft. The players I profile going forward will be players that push Tavon Wilson in to the swing safety role.