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Detroit Lions 2016 roster review: Highly praised Stefan Charles is a low-risk free agent

The Lions were all talk with Stefan Charles in 2016.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Stefan Charles

Expectations before 2016

When the Lions signed Charles to a one-year deal on the second day of free agency, he was expected to be part of the heavy rotation at defensive tackle. Improving the middle of the defensive line was clearly a priority for the Lions last offseason, and quickly picking up Charles was a sign they were serious in giving him a big role in 2016.

However, Charles quickly slid down the depth chart as the offseason progressed. The first domino that fell was the Lions selecting A’Shawn Robinson with their second-round pick in the draft. Then, as training camp and the preseason progressed, guys like Khyri Thornton and Caraun Reid appeared to be outplaying him.

In our final 53-man roster predictions, myself, Andrew Kato and Kent Platte all predicted Charles to be cut. However, the Lions shockingly chose him over Caraun Reid in their final roster cuts.

Actual role in 2016

2016 stats: 12 games (0 starts) | 12 tackles

Though Charles ended up making the team, he didn’t have that much of an impact on the season. Charles was in and out of the lineup for the first few games of the year. He didn’t play a defensive snap in Weeks 1 and 5, but led all defensive tackles in snaps in Weeks 7 and 8.

Statistically, Charles was a non-factor all year. However, on a few occasions we heard head coach Jim Caldwell specifically point to Charles as someone who had been playing well along the defensive line. Here is Caldwell after the Jaguars game, in which Charles had two tackles:

“He made a lot of plays for us, really tough in the middle. He’s a powerful man, glad to see he keeps coming along. He and Khyri (Thornton) both are playing well.”

And here’s defensive coordinator Teryl Austin back in early November:

He just gets off the ball and he knocks guys around. He’s like a bull in a china shop and you feel him when he’s out there and that’s really good.

Lions coaches continued to praise Charles’ play as the season progressed, but he was a healthy scratch in Week 15 against the Giants. His season ended after suffering a knee injury against the Cowboys that landed him on the injured reserve list.

Outlook for 2017

Contract status: Unrestricted free agent

The Lions essentially gave Stefan Charles a prove-it contract, and the results were mixed. Overall, the Lions interior defensive line did not do its job well in 2016. The Lions failed to stop the run when they needed and they generated next-to-no pressure on the quarterback up the middle.

Yet, the Lions remained very adamant in their praise of Charles, specifically. I get the sense that Charles was a behind-the-scenes kind of player, even if the Lions chose to bench him for a few games this year. In fact, of all five defensive tackles that received playing time, Charles had the fewest snaps.

It still seems like the Lions are infatuated with Charles, which is why I wouldn’t be surprised to see the former CFL player return on another cheap one-year deal, but the Lions could certainly move on from him with minimal disruption.

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

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