As we start to look ahead to training camp, we're going to take a position-by-position look at the Detroit Lions roster. Next up is the safety position. (The final year of each player's contract is listed in parentheses.)
Set starters: Glover Quin (2017)
Backups: Rafael Bush (2016), Miles Killebrew (2019), Tavon Wilson (2017)
On the bubble: Isaiah Johnson (2016), Don Carey (2016)
The safety position is going to be one of the most highly contested position from top to bottom during training camp. The only certainty among the group is Glover Quin will be the Lions’ starting free safety, presuming he remains healthy.
As of right now, the Lions do not have a clear starter alongside Quin. Rafael Bush, who was signed to a one-year, $1.5 million contract this offseason, appears to be the frontrunner going into camp based on his previous experience and contract size.
That being said, many are sleeping on Tavon Wilson. Wilson was also signed this offseason but to a two-year, $2.2 million deal. Wilson is mostly known for his special teams contributions, but as our own Andrew Kato pointed out, Wilson’s coverage skills are often overlooked. He will very much be in the mix to win the strong safety starting job.
Then the Lions drafted small-school prospect Miles Killebrew in the fourth round of the NFL Draft and threw a wrench into the plans. The safety out of Southern Utah isn’t likely to win the starting job in 2016, but he could very well become the starter of the future. Killebrew will have a steep learning curve coming from the FCS in college, but he’s expected to at least contribute on special teams in his rookie year.
Isaiah Johnson and Don Carey are both players that still have value for the Lions. Johnson spent much of 2015 on the Lions’ practice squad after originally missing the cut last year. But after injuries forced Detroit’s hand, Johnson jumped to the active roster and notched a single special teams tackle in five contests on the gameday roster.
Carey has been a long-time specialist for the Detroit Lions. Since 2011, Carey has been one of the biggest contributors to the special team coverage units. Last year, Carey led one of the best coverage units in the league with 16 special-teams stops according to Pro Football Focus (the most in the NFL). His play earned him the team’s Special Teams MVP Award at the end of the season. But the 29-year-old may fall victim to the numbers game this year.
Need going forward?
Though the Lions don’t have a clear starter at the strong safety position, I’m not sure the Lions need to go out and grab one. Detroit has a handful of players with starting experience and even a potential young talent that could grow into the long-term answer. Beyond that, the Lions have excellent depth when it comes to special teams skills. At the moment, the Lions actually look okay at the safety position.