Impending Free Agents
Safety Rafael Bush is the biggest name in this category, accounting for 501 out of a possible 1027 snaps this season. Bush began the season in the Lions primary strong safety role, but eventually ceded the starting role to Tavon Wilson, and moved into a third safety role. After the Bye Week, Miles Killebrew‘s role expanded into third safety duties in nickel sets and in turn cut further into Bush’s role.
Despite his role being limited as the season progressed, Bush still had the second most productive season of his career. He recently told ESPN that he believes he is still capable of playing as a starter. With Wilson still under contract and Killebrew’s role continuing to grow, that opportunity won’t likely be there for Bush in 2017.
Crezdon Butler and Asa Jackson were both late season additions due to injuries on the roster. Butler was active in week 17 and played only five snaps, while Jackson played in the last four games with 93 snaps seen. They’re roles are unlikely to change in 2017 regardless of their future team.
Existing Players Roles
Miles Killebrew saw his role expand throughout the season and he appears ready to step into the role occupied by Bush last season. Detroit’s third safety role is ideal for Killebrew as he is primarily used as a “hang defender” in this scheme. This role allows him play at different spots on the field, utilizing both his safety and linebacker skills.
To get a better understanding of what his role will look like, be sure check out the file study I did on Killebrew during the season: Here. He only played 12 snaps in that game, but the role will be the same, just expanded to around 30 snaps.
If the Lions do choose to upgrade the secondary, it will likely be at the expense of starting cornerback Nevin Lawson. Often receiving a lot of blame from fans, Lawson is a better player than he gets credit for. That being said, I’m not sure he fits the profile for the type of player Bob Quinn wants in a starting role.
Most people will point to Lawson size (5’9 1/2″, 190 lbs) and say he needs to be moved inside to nickel corner. But I believe his skills won’t translate to a full-time nickelback role. He can play inside in specific situations, but he struggles with quick wide receivers and is best suited on the outside.
Current starting nickelback Quandre Diggs struggled this season when the Lions adjusted their defensive scheme. Diggs is best suited as a press cover corner and when the Lions shifted to an off coverage scheme, Diggs was not as effective. If the Lions keep an off coverage scheme in 2017, upgrading Diggs will be something they will be considering.