Thu, 28 May 2020

Where Lions stand at linebacker following offseason additions

Detroit Lions
06 Apr 2020, 20:25 GMT+10

With three additions to their linebacker room this offseason - Jamie Collins Sr., Reggie Ragland and Elijah Lee - and only one subtraction - Devon Kennard - the linebacker room in Allen Park has become pretty crowded.

Collins, Ragland and Lee join Jarrad Davis, Jahlani Tavai and Christian Jones - three players who saw significant time at linebacker for the Lions last season - along with Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Steve Longa, Jason Cabina, Anthony Pittman and Christian Sam on the Lions' roster at linebacker.

The addition of Collins is a big one from a production standpoint. Detroit's leading tackler last season was safety Tracy Walker (103), with safety Tavon Wilson (98) and cornerback Rashaan Melvin (68) coming in second and third.

Detroit's leading tackler from the linebacker position was Davis with 63 tackles in just 11 games played. That ranked 60th among all NFL players at the position.

Collins, 30, started 15 games and played 81 percent of the snaps for New England's top-ranked defense last season. He set a career-high with seven sacks to go along with 81 tackles, 21 quarterback hurries, 10 tackles for loss and three interceptions. He had 104 tackles playing in Cleveland in 2018.

Collins (6-3, 255) is likely to slot into Kennard's role, but he's versatile enough to play any linebacker spot for Detroit. New England even played him along their defensive line at times.

Ragland, a former first-round pick by Buffalo in 2016, played in 14 games for the Super Bowl winning Kansas City Chiefs last season with seven starts. He's reinvented himself with the Chiefs over the last couple years after an injury-plagued beginning to his career.

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Ragland recorded 30 tackles and 2.0 sacks last season, with a final Pro Football Focus grade for the year that was higher than any linebacker on Detroit's roster a year ago. He added two tackles in Kansas City's Super Bowl victory over San Francisco. Ragland had 86 tackles for the Chiefs in 2018 in a bigger role.

Davis is heading into his fourth season in Detroit and is one year removed from a 100-tackle, six-sack season, but he battled injuries and inconsistencies last year, and really has battled those inconsistencies through his first three years in Detroit. The Lions have to make a decision by May on picking up the fifth-year option of his rookie contract.

Ragland, a terrific run defender, could challenge Davis for playing time at inside linebacker.

Detroit's second-round pick last season, Jahlani Tavai, made good gains as a rookie getting significant playing time. He'll also be looking for an expanded role in 2020.

The Lions re-signed Jones through the 2021 season, and like what his size and versatility bring to their scheme. He started all 13 games he played last season with 51 tackles and two sacks.

It will be interesting to see how the Lions divvy up snaps at linebacker between Collins, Davis, Tavai, Jones and Ragland. Does Ragland project as a SAM or MIKE, or something else? Where does Tavai fit into the mix?

Detroit obviously had a plan to bolster the talent and depth at linebacker this offseason, a weakness on their defense a season ago. Collins is a definite upgrade as one of the top graded outside linebackers by PFF last season. Ragland provides depth, and potentially an upgrade, especially against the run.

One of the better position battles to watch when football activities resume is how the pecking order within a reshaped linebacker room in Detroit will work itself out.

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