Can Miles Killebrew Take The Next Step In 2017?
Miles Killebrew was a fourth round draft pick for the Detroit Lions a year ago. He is coming off of a very solid rookie season, especially considering that he was a day three pick. He is a strong safety/linebacker hybrid, and he is known for his hard hits. Standing at 6’2″ and weighing in at 217 pounds, Killebrew has what it takes to be effective against both the run and in pass coverage. Because Killebrew has only played one season in the NFL, we will look at both his college and NFL tape in this breakdown. Here are the things that Killebrew brings to the table for the Detroit Lions in 2017.
Miles Killebrew may be listed as a defensive back, but he is a tackling machine. In his junior season of college, he racked up 101 tackles. In his senior season, he did even better, this time tallying 132. In Killebrew’s rookie season with the Detroit Lions, he didn’t see much playing time for the first half of the season, as he only had two tackles in the first seven games. However, he found a role on the defense in the second half of the season playing linebacker on passing downs, and made 26 tackles over the final nine games. Most defensive backs shy away from contact, but not Killebrew – he seeks it out.
Against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Killebrew had arguably the best game of his rookie season. Most of the game clips in this review will be from that game. Here is an example of Killebrew exerting his brute force onto the Jaguars. On the play, he is lined up on the edge and blitzes. The Jaguars running back, TJ Yeldon, attempts to block Killebrew, but to no avail. Killebrew rather easily overpowers Yeldon, and then has the speed to chase down the scrambling quarterback, Blake Bortles, from behind. Killebrew then makes a hard diving tackle, which caused an injury to Bortles’ shoulder.
When Killebrew played college football at Southern Utah, he quickly earned a reputation for his hard hits. This play against Portland State will tell you why. Portland State throws a bubble screen to the slot receiver, and Killebrew comes up and makes a great open field tackle, laying a huge hit on the receiver.
Here is another play where Killebrew displays his hard hitting ability. On this one, he chases down a running back from all the way across the field. When Killebrew closes in on the back, he puts a big hit on him, making him wish that he had gone down earlier in the play.
Killebrew played mostly safety at Southern Utah, but in his rookie year with the Lions he played a lot more outside linebacker. Killebrew brings the force of a linebacker to the field, but without sacrificing any athleticism. This means that the Lions can move him all around, he has the ability to cover deep passes at the safety position, play a more in-the-box safety role, play outside linebacker on third downs, play on special teams and we even saw him line up as an edge rusher and blitz quarterbacks. Although he is still a very raw player, he has the talent and ability to do very many things for the Lions, and that is extremely valuable.
Underrated Pass Coverage Ability
When you think of Miles Killebrew, usually the first thing that pops into your head is big hits. And while he does make lots of them, one trait of his that is really underrated and sometimes forgotten about is that he is very solid pass coverage. In Killebrew’s junior year of college, he made three interceptions. Then in his senior year he had seven passes defended. He went on to make an interception against Drew Brees with the Lions as a rookie. Here are a few examples of his ability to cover the pass.
Killebrew spent most of his time in 2016 covering runningbacks and tight ends, as he does here. On this play against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Killebrew shows great instincts as he sniffs out the screen pass from a mile away. Killebrew does a great job of recognizing what the running back (TJ Yeldon) was doing, and followed him across the field. Killebrew then sheds a block and makes a tackle for a loss.
This time, Killebrew is covering Jaguars tight end Julius Thomas. Thomas runs an out route on third and five, and Killebrew does a good job of sticking to him in coverage. Although the pass is completed, it is caught one yard short of the first down. Killebrew then makes a great open field tackle, preventing the third down conversion.
Here is a play that demonstrates Killebrew’s coverage ability as a safety. He is covering a receiver who is running a deep route on the sideline. Killebrew shows good closing speed, as he gets over to the receiver with the ball in the air. Killebrew doesn’t get there in time to get a hand on the pass, but he intimidates the receiver into dropping the ball, then decides to still hit him anyway.
Killebrew even has some experience playing nickel corner, as he does on this play. He is in one on one man coverage with the slot receiver, and the offense runs a smash concept play. Killebrew does a great job of staying with the receiver all through his route, and at the end does a great job of knocking the pass out of the air before the receiver can catch it.
At this point, Miles Killebrew is still a very raw player. He has tons of potential, which he has flashed in the NFL on occasion, but he has yet to put it all together. On the field he’ll have occasional mental lapses. He will occasionally whiff on tackles when he goes for big hits rather than making safer wrap up tackles. Sometimes when he plays safety, he will allow receivers to get behind him and he will get beat deep. Last season, Miles Killebrew simply wasn’t ready to be anything more than a role player, and it is yet to be seen whether or not he will take the next step and become a full time contributor in 2017.
This is an example of Killebrew making a mental error in run defense. The running back breaks off a big run, but Killebrew has a good opportunity to bring him down around 12 yards past the line of scrimmage. Instead of making an open field tackle, Killebrew completely over pursues the running back, and the running back gets into the open field and scores a touchdown. Killebrew tried to go for the big hit instead of just wrapping up the ball carrier, and as a result, the opposing team scored a touchdown.
Miles Killebrew has the talent to be a significant contributor on the Detroit Lions defense and special teams in 2017. The degree to which his contributions will be significant is what has yet to be seen. It wouldn’t surprise me if he takes over the starting position at strong safety, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he spent another season playing sparingly, only appearing on third downs and as a nickel linebacker. I think that Killebrew will probably be somewhere in between the those two scenarios in 2017. He will start the season as a role player like he was for much of 2016, but it is not unreasonable at all to think he could become a starter midway into the season. Killebrew has too much talent to not contribute somewhere on the Lions’ defense this season.
2017 Statistics Project: 45 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 1 interception