Now that we’re in full offseason mode, we’re going to review every single Detroit Lions player that finished the 2016 season under contract. We’ll look at their expectations coming into the season, whether they met those expectations and what to expect of them going forward. We will begin with the upcoming free agents, as they are the most intriguing and time sensitive.
Expectations before 2016
One of the few players on the roster that flew under a lot of people’s radars was Tyrunn Walker. Indirectly, however, the expectations for him led for many to believe the defensive line was the biggest strength of Detroit’s defense going into 2016.
Alongside Haloti Ngata, Walker started the first four games of 2015 before his season ended prematurely; a cheap shot during Week 4 against Seattle led to a broken leg, and all of the promise he showed in 2014 as a member of the Saints was brought to an abrupt halt.
Heading into 2016, the hope was a now healthy Walker would get back to where he was before the injury and provide Detroit with what made him so promising in New Orleans: an effective pass rusher who utilized his length and power to cause disruption.
Actual role in 2016
2016 stats: 15 games (8 starts) | 15 tackles, 11 assists, 1 fumble recovery
After the Lions made moves to cut players like Caraun Reid, it was pretty apparent the team was going to give Walker a lot of play. From Weeks 1-8, Walker played in no less than 20 snaps in a game on defense, and was consistently one of the most utilized players on the interior. However, little production from Walker led to an even distribution of snaps and opportunities for guys like Stefan Charles, Khyri Thornton and A’Shawn Robinson.
Then, in Week 11’s matchup with the Jaguars, Walker was a healthy inactive. It seemed as though the play of rookie A’Shawn Robinson, along with Walker’s lack of production, had earned Robinson a spot alongside Ngata in the Lions base defensive set.
Walker finished the season with a 46.4 grade from Pro Football Focus, which ranked him 78th among 127 qualifying interior defenders. According to PFF, Walker was rather effective as a pass rusher, an obvious strength of his when he arrived from New Orleans in 2014: His 70.4 grade in pass rush ranked him 38th among 118 qualifying interior defenders.
Outlook for 2017
Contract status: Unrestricted free agent
Detroit has quite the list of needs to fill this offseason and some are more pressing than others. While Walker did provide some push in the way of a pass rush, the Lions are at a bit of a crossroads when it comes to the makeup along the interior of their defensive line, and a lot of pieces to the puzzle will fall into place before the team decides if they value Walker enough to bring him back.
Veteran Haloti Ngata is 33 years old with just one year remaining on his deal, and it’s possible the Lions either restructure his current contract or outright release him to save money and increase their wallet for this offseason. With A’Shawn Robinson’s promising play, and both of them serving a similar role, a move like this could make sense for Detroit.
If the team does decide to go with the latter route, the team would create roughly $5.5 million in cap space to re-sign a player like Walker, who could provide depth as a rotational guy, and coming in on passing downs while the team tries to find a more versatile and permanent fixture next to Robinson.
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