The Detroit Lions safety depth chart doesn’t mean a thing

DETROIT, MI - DECEMBER 16: Detroit Lions cornerback Quandre Diggs #28 celebrates his second half interception against the Chicago Bears at Ford Field on December 16, 2017 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
DETROIT, MI - DECEMBER 16: Detroit Lions cornerback Quandre Diggs #28 celebrates his second half interception against the Chicago Bears at Ford Field on December 16, 2017 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /

If the future can be judged by the Detroit Lions off-season moves and Matt Patricia’s history as a defensive coordinator. The defense will deploy safeties based on weekly matchups, rather than order on the depth chart.

Earlier this week, Ash Thompson concluded that matchups will dictate who starts week-to-week at cornerback. I am here to totally agree with him. I will take his work a step further by saying the same thing about the safeties.

Matt Patricia understands how much individual matchups affect the outcome of NFL games. That is exactly why he won’t stick to the depth chart when it comes to playing defensive backs throughout the season.

Patricia has a history of playing a lot of man coverage. Last season, the Patriots ran the second most man-coverage in the league, according to Pro Football Focus. Generally, when playing man-to-man, at least one safety will be free to roam, most of the time that will be Glover Quin.

To play a lot of man coverage this season, the Lions will have to match up with players of various skill sets. Between the wide receiver, tight end, and running back positions, the Lions will be covering a lot of talent this season. To keep up, the Lions will need skill sets to match at the safety position.

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Bob Quinn and the Lions front office have positioned the team to be very multiple in their secondary. By that I mean, we might not see the same 4-5 DBs start back to back games throughout the season.

Let’s take a look at the safeties that figure to play a role for the Lions this season and why there will almost certainly be different combinations deployed for different games.

Glover Quin

Glover Quin is the only safety that is a sure start every game, barring injury. He leads not only the secondary but the entire defense with loads of experience and skill.

Tavon Wilson

Tavon Wilson started at strong safety for most of the year last season. He is experienced and he knows Matt Patricia’s system from his time in New England. His skill set is best utilized by playing a hybrid strong safety and nickel linebacker role. He’ll play in the box and he’ll drop deep in coverage, helping the Lions defend multiple personnel groups.

Quandre Diggs

Quandre Diggs started a few games toward the end of last season at strong safety. He was also listed as the starter on the first unofficial depth chart, released by the Lions media team. As a converted nickel corner, his experience is mostly covering slot receivers. Diggs will likely be used to cover more physical receivers.

Miles Killebrew

With reports of Miles Killebrew practicing at linebacker, I don’t know if he should even be in this conversation. However, he’s played at safety over the past 2 seasons so we’ll talk about him. Killebrew has the least coverage skills of the group, but at 6’2″ 220 pounds, he is the biggest. It makes sense that he would be working in with the linebackers given that he didn’t have a very impressive season in 2017. His lack of success was one thing that drove the conversion of Quandre Diggs from corner to safety. It looks like Killebrew will get his shot as a hybrid SS/LB.

When he’s playing, Killebrew’s size and athleticism will be used to cover running backs out of the backfield and to rush the passer from time to time.

Tracy Walker

Rookie, Tracy Walker, is incredibly versatile. The Lions’ biggest draft day surprise is a fluid athlete with very long arms. In fact, his arms are longer than first-rounder Frank Ragnow. He might be a bit raw, but his college coaches rave about his football IQ. If he can pick up the playbook and adapt to the NFL game quickly, the Lions could have a secret weapon on defense. His frame and versatility will allow him to play deep safety as well as come up and cover big physical receivers or tight ends in the slot.

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The Lions have talent at safety, but their real strength is the versatility of that talent. It is that versatility that makes the published depth chart meaningless.