The Major Weakness Coming Into 2017 Was The Linebackers, And The Lions Addressed It Well.
Looking back at the 2017 NFL draft, many positions were wanted by the fanbase. Running back, defensive end, linebacker, cornerback, and even tight end were brought up for possibilities when the Lions were on the clock. Looking at it overall though, the linebackers were in need of some help coming into 2017 and they got it.
While the additions of rookies Jarrad Davis and Jalen Reeves-Maybin were nice, the team still struggled at the position. They had linebackers that were average in coverage, but good at stopping the run and tackling well. The team didn’t do much in free agency to help the team in 2017, as they relied more on the rookies and it cost them somewhat.
Jarrad Davis And Jalen Reeves-Maybin Are The Future Starting Linebackers
Coming in as the first round pick, linebacker Jarrad Davis was seen as the future voice and leader of the defense. He played and started in 14 games in 2017, dealing with a concussion for two games, but Davis seemed to be the right choice for the Lions. The more popular choice for the team was linebacker Reuben Foster from Alabama, but his off the field issues turned GM Bob Quinn away and it seems they made the correct choice in that manner.
Davis wasn’t a perfect first round pick though – he struggled with coverage and assignments – but when it came to filling the gaps and locking players down to tackle, he did it with ease. Davis finished the year with 96 total tackles, three pass deflections, two sacks, one interception, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
The other rookie linebacker, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, was a good surprise for the team. Maybin was dealing with a shoulder injury that took him out for a good chunk of his last season at Tennessee, and the Lions were able to snag him in the fourth round.
Maybin saw some more playing time as the year went on, and he finished with 25 total tackles, two pass deflections, a forced fumble and half of a sack. Maybin will have a better chance to fight for the starting linebacker position in 2018 with two starters leaving.
Linebackers Paul Worrilow And Tahir Whitehead Were Inconsistent
Two now-former Detroit Lions linebackers, Tahir Whitehead and Paul Worrilow had an up and down 2017. Whitehead still had a great year when it came to tackling, finishing with 110 total tackles, but his pass coverage was still questionable for a majority of the time and he just wasn’t the right fit for Detroit, but he was the best that they had and they had to keep rolling with it.
Detroit tried out a “prove it” deal with Worrilow and that backfired. Worrilow appeared in 13 games, only starting in eight and showed why the Atlanta Falcons let him go. His coverage skills weren’t good and his tackling at times lacked power.
While Whitehead will be missed for his good run stopping ability, these two players have moved on and the Lions have moved on from them, adding three linebackers so far in free agency that seems to be better fitted for new head coach Matt Patricia‘s defense.
Detroit added former New York Giants linebacker Devon Kennard, former Chicago Bears linebacker Christian Jones, and former New England Patriots linebacker Jonathan Freeny. Those three linebackers and the possible addition of rookies will have a complete overhaul of what 2017 was.
Nick Bellore Could Have Some Potential
The darkhorse linebacker on the team was former Central Michigan Chippewa Nick Bellore. Bellore saw playing time in 13 games, starting in the two that Davis was injured for, and did well with his role.
He only finished with six total tackles in the season, but his coverage skills were adequate and his tackling seemed to be solid. Bellore also saw some playing time as a fullback, even scoring a touchdown for the team.
While he won’t and shouldn’t have to play fullback anymore, he is a good depth linebacker for the team. He has potential to become a starter down the line, and training camp and preseason will give him that chance as it could be anyone’s race to start alongside Davis and Kennard.
With the linebackers improving from 2016 to 2017, they will likely see an even better change from 2017 to 2018. The change from 16-17 was nothing major, no studs came out of the season, but Davis can be a solid starting linebacker in the NFL, and Maybin can certainly have a chance to start in 2018.
The three additions for Detroit should leave them out of drafting a linebacker, but a rookie could pounce out one of the lower tier linebackers on the team, and that isn’t a bad thing. This position group had an inconsistent 2017, with its highs and lows; 2018 should have a more solid foundation for them as that group will be entirely different from 2016 and 2017.