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Detroit Lions 2016 roster review: Will Tavon Wilson start in 2017?

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Tavon Wilson was an unheralded free agent coming to Detroit in 2016 and while he didn’t make a huge splash, he was one of their most important pickups.

NFL: Washington Redskins at Detroit Lions Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Tavon Wilson

Expectations before 2016

Wilson burst onto the scene in New England as a rookie recording 46 tackles to go with two fumble recoveries and four interceptions. Not only a respectable rookie season, it was a good one and the team believed they had something moving forward. Instead of an increased role, however, Wilson went from a spectacular rookie season to notching only 3 tackles and a single pick (a pick six at least) in 2013. He remained a role player for the Patriots until 2016 when he was picked up by the Detroit Lions to compete for a starting role with Rafael Bush and rookie mid-round pick Miles Killebrew. Playing solely in specific packages for the Pats, not a lot was expected out of Tavon Wilson and when the team opened up their competition he came in firmly behind Rafael Bush to start camp and the preseason. Killebrew’s small school, raw reputation is probably the only thing that kept Wilson part of the defense to start the season where Teryl Austin utilized big nickel often.

Actual role in 2016

2016 stats: 15 games (14 starts), 89 tackles, 1 fumble recovery, 2 interceptions

Though he started in a hole, it didn’t take long for Tavon Wilson to surpass Rafael Bush as the starting strong safety for the Lions. They both still received significant snaps, as mentioned they used big nickel often, but Wilson was used all over the field in coverage, as a blitzer and in the slot. He excelled at times, indeed there were moments where he was brilliant on the field and it looked like the team might have an answer at strong safety going forward, regardless of what happened with Killebrew. His bad moments, on the other hand, were some of the team’s worst and he had this odd tendency to have entire series where he would look completely lost in coverage and against the run. That dichotomy of play was frustrating, but the team was able to parlay his good days to some wins and if it weren’t for Tavon Wilson, the team likely misses the playoffs in 2016.

Outlook for 2017

Wilson returns in his starting role for 2017 but has Miles Killebrew hot on his tail. Killebrew came on mid season in a tailor-made third down role that saw him make play after play to kill offensive drives by the Lions opponents. The team brought him along slowly, but a full offseason is likely to see a full on battle for that starting job sooner rather than later. Wilson was only signed to a two-year deal, so starting every game and putting in a strong showing will go a long way to getting that next contract. If he loses his starting job to Killebrew but both play well, look for the team to go back to using big nickel and have Wilson playing all over the field again. If he maintains his grasp on the starting job, I’m not certain it will be a great season of secondary play, but after seeing him in 2016, I’m fairly confident that it won’t be a terrible one.

Previously profiled Lions: Riley Reiff, Anquan Boldin, Dan Orlovsky, Devin Taylor, Rafael Bush, Don Muhlbach, Larry Warford, Andre Roberts, TJ Jones, Kerry Hyder, Jon Bostic, Marvin Jones, Alex Carter, Tim Wright, Armonty Bryant, Clay Harbor, Crezdon Butler, Matthew Mulligan, Asa Jackson, Tyrunn Walker, Josh Bynes, Stefan Charles, Cornelius Lucas, Steve Longa, Joique Bell, Taylor Decker, Garrett Reynolds, Jake Rudock