Mon, 08 Mar 2021

2020 position breakdown: Safeties

Detroit Lions
19 Jan 2021, 00:25 GMT+10

Tim Twentyman

The good: It was a down year overall for the backend of Detroit's 30th ranked passing defense, but there was some good play from Detroit's safeties mixed in there, especially early in the year.

The Lions traded for veteran Duron Harmon last offseason, giving him an opportunity to be a full-time starter for the first time in his career. Harmon was named a captain on defense, which speaks to his leadership qualities, and he started all 16 games, leading the team with two interceptions and finishing third in tackles (73). Harmon's interceptions against Arizona and Jacksonville contributed to wins for the Lions in those two contests.

Tracy Walker played in 15 games and finished second on the team with 87 tackles, despite starting just seven of those contests. He recorded double-digit tackles in three games this year.

The bad: Opposing quarterbacks finished the season with a 112.4 passer rating against Detroit, the highest in the NFL. Detroit's 4,753 passing yards allowed were the third most in the league. The Lions allowed 38 passing touchdowns, the most in the league.

Detroit allowed 66 completions of 20-plus yards, which were second most in the league. Detroit's 16 touchdowns allowed of 20-plus yards were also the most in the league.

It was supposed to be a breakout season for Walker, who led the Lions in tackles in 2019, but Walker admittedly struggled with inconsistencies and was only a part-time starter early on, though he did regain a starting role the last couple weeks of the season.

To be fair, he did deal with a foot injury for part of the season that affected his play at times. He also played more strong safety in 2020 vs. the free safety role he played more of his first two seasons. Walker was credited with allowing seven touchdowns in his coverage this season.

2020 position breakdown: Offensive line 2020 position breakdown: Cornerbacks Lions agree to terms with Brad Holmes to become team's new Executive Vice President and General Manager

Key stat: Only seven teams blitzed less than the Lions in 2020 (23.7 percent), but when Detroit did attack the quarterback via the blitz, the coverage behind it, which is usually one-on-one situations, wasn't good enough. Opposing passers had a 118.8 rating when Detroit blitzed in passing situations. Detroit recorded just four sacks and gave up nine touchdowns with no interceptions in those situations, per STATS INC. statistics.

Free agents: Harmon is an unrestricted free agent this offseason. It will be interesting to see if the Lions try to revamp an underperforming unit, or see if some new defensive schemes and coaching offer more consistency.

Walker will be entering the final year of his rookie contract in 2021. Former third-round pick Will Harris will hope to have a better season in year three than he did in his second year this past season.

Draft: This is a position group new Lions general manager Brad Holmes could certainly look to bolster this offseason via free agency or the draft.

TCU's Trevon Moehrig is considered one of the top safeties in the draft, and a player who's been given a "rare prospect" grade by ESPN's early draft ratings.

James Wiggins (Cincinnati), Richard LeCounte III (Georgia), Richie Grant (UCF), Jevon Holland (Oregon), Paris Ford (Pittsburgh) and Bubba Bolden (Miami) are some other names to get familiar with.

MVP: Harmon was probably the most consistent performer among a group of Lions safeties that was rather inconsistent all season. Harmon was Detroit's top-graded safety via Pro Football Focus, though he was the 44th graded safety overall in the NFL. Harmon was credited with allowing just one touchdown in his coverage this season, the long touchdown grab by Tennessee's Corey Davis Week 15.

Quotable: "I feel like it was a year of learning for me - a lot of learning," Walker said. "I definitely got a lot wiser, and there's a lot of new things that I just, you know, wasn't used to, and I had to adjust. Like I said, this year was a huge learning experience for me, off the field and on the field. And so now, 2021 approaching, I'm ready to process this year and take off the right way."

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