The Best Part Of The 2017 Detroit Lions Defense Was The Play By The Defensive Backs.
Coming into 2017, nobody knew what to expect when it came to the Detroit Lions secondary. Rookie cornerbacks Teez Tabor and Jamal Agnew weren’t seen as much help as it takes time for cornerbacks to transition to the NFL, (look at Darius Slay), and nobody was expecting Agnew to be a special team threat right away. Former first-round pick cornerback D.J. Hayden was given another chance in the NFL on a one-year deal with the Lions.
Detroit would finish the season ranked 27th in passing yards allowed per game, and while that isn’t great at all, they tied for fourth with 19 turnovers, and that is what made them so good. They were able to make plays they weren’t able to make in the past, tipped passes were caught, good coverage turned into interceptions rather than pass deflections, and one of the reasons why they allowed so many yards was because the amount of time they were given to cover wide receivers, as the defensive line didn’t bring much pressure, it gave opposing quarterbacks time to wait for the receivers to get open after the first few seconds of tough coverage. Let’s take a look back at how all of the defensive backs did for the Lions in 2017.
Darius Slay And Glover Quin Lead Defensive Backs With Impressive Play
After a rough rookie season, cornerback Darius Slay has improved for the Detroit Lions. While he has become a shutdown type of cornerback, 2017 was his year to show he is one of, if not the best cornerback in the NFL. Slay lead all the cornerbacks and was tied for first in all defensive backs in the NFL with eight interceptions.
Slay would finish the season with 60 total tackles, 26 pass deflections, eight interceptions, and a fumble recovery. Slay was able to shut down a good majority of his opposing wide receivers. His coverage skills were on point and his hands improved as he was able to help the defense in many situations with his turnovers. Slay would get his first All-Pro honors with his fantastic season.
Darius Slay kept the receivers he shadowed on 🔒 in 2017! pic.twitter.com/VNB2KIgktK
— PFF (@PFF) March 8, 2018
The Robin to Slay’s Batman in the defensive backs on the Lions is starting safety, Glover Quin. Quin has become a solid starting safety since coming to Detroit in 2013 and continued to prove his worth on the team and like Slay showed why he could be considered a top safety in the league.
Quin finished with 84 total tackles, six pass deflections, four forced fumbles, three interceptions (returning one for a touchdown), and a fumble recovery. Like Slay, Quin’s coverage and hands skills were impressive and one thing that Quin does better than Slay is forcing fumbles. Quin knows where to hit to pop the ball out of the ball carrier’s hands and he knows where to grab to strip the ball out.
Nevin Lawson And Tavon Wilson Do Well As The Other Starters
The number two cornerback on the team Nevin Lawson was the most inconsistent defensive back on the team in 2017. There were moments where Lawson showed flashes of a true number two cornerback, but other times he looked like a rookie, lost in the wild with no direction or guidance on what to do. Lawson would finish the season with 43 total tackles, four pass deflections, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery returned for a touchdown.
Lawson was rewarded for his play, and a lack of money to get better talent in free agency, with a two-year contract extension for $9.2 million, with incentives pushing it to $10 million. This move was notable in that it left fans questioning GM Bob Quinn for the first time in his tenure.
The other starting defensive back was safety Tavon Wilson. Wilson started 14 games in the 2016 season and was held back to nine in 2017 due to a shoulder injury. Wilson was like Lawson at times but had more consistent plays that helped the team more than hurt them.
Wilson finished with 55 total tackles, two pass deflections, two sacks, an interception, and a forced fumble. Wilson was a backup in New England before coming to Detroit and has proved his worth as a starter, as he too got a contract extension for two years for $7 million.
Jamal Agnew And Quandre Diggs Provide Sparks For The Team
The rookie defensive back that didn’t get much hype after getting drafted, Jamal Agnew, had a fantastic rookie season. While he didn’t play much defense, his skills were showcased on special teams. Agnew blew up during Training Camp where our own Sean Lanigan caught this punt return by Agnew.
Agnew finished the season with only five tackles on defense, and later in the season he would get involved with the offense, with two catches for 18 yards and two carries for nine yards, but again returning kicks and punts were his game. He was an All-Pro in 2017 with 11 kick returns for 196 yards and 29 punt returns for 447 yards and two touchdowns.
Another player in the secondary to provide a spark was the cornerback turned safety Quandre Diggs. Diggs was a slot cornerback for the Lions and while he was doing well at the spot, his play turned up a notch when Wilson went down with his shoulder injury. Speculation was that backup safety Miles Killebrew would start, but Diggs took the job and ran with it.
#Lions S Quandre Diggs didn't allow a touchdown and intercepted 3 passes when lined up as a safety– a +3 ratio in 2017.
— Logan Lamorandier (@LLamorandier) April 7, 2018
Diggs was able to create turnovers with big hits and reading plays correctly. Diggs finished the season with 54 total tackles, nine pass deflections, three interceptions, one forced fumble, and a sack. Diggs can be real competition for Wilson for the starting job, but putting him back at slot cornerback won’t be a bad thing either for head coach Matt Patricia.
Teez Tabor And Miles Killebrew Show Promise For Future
Drafting cornerback Teez Tabor in the second round gave Lawson a reason to step up his game in 2017, and while Tabor didn’t see the field much, he did well when asked to go out there. He only finished with 11 total tackles, but his coverage skills were there. Tabor should see some more playing time in 2018, even with the addition of cornerback DeShawn Shead and Lawson returning.
Another defensive back that showed some promise in 2017 was safety Miles Killebrew. Killebrew losing to Diggs for the safety job when Wilson went down isn’t a good look, but Killebrew still saw the field, finishing with 31 total tackles, five pass deflections, a forced fumble, and a pick six. Killebrew can also bring the power with his hitting, and he can be versatile on the defensive front, which is always welcomed by any team in the NFL.
Charles Washington And D.J. Hayden Filled As Depth In 2017
Third-string safety Charles Washington was just that, a third-stringer who didn’t see the field often, finishing with seven total tackles. He was just a depth body and will continue to be in 2018.
Former Lions cornerback D.J. Hayden didn’t do much to help the Lions secondary. His coverage skills were average and he didn’t look like a first-round pick. Hayden finished with 42 total tackles, nine pass deflections, two fumble recoveries, and half a sack. Shead is an upgrade over Hayden, and with Tabor seeing more playing time, Hayden won’t be missed.
Overall, the Lions secondary has some good talent that can turn this into a shutdown passing game. They need help from the front seven, as any good secondary can allow catches when the opposing quarterback has plenty of time to throw the ball. Also, when they can’t stop the run, the defense puts too much pressure on stopping the run and exposes the passing game that isn’t as protected.
Slay and Quin can continue to be the leaders of this defense, and with younger talent showing they can get the job done as well, the depth at this group is deep and only has one weak link. Given a better front seven, this defense can become something special.