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Safety isn’t an immediate need for the Lions, but they should address it soon

We’ve talked plenty about the Lions’ need for linebackers, cornerbacks and defensive linemen, but what about safeties?

NFL: NFC Wild Card-Detroit Lions at Seattle Seahawks Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

When talking about the offseason and the Detroit Lions’ biggest needs, safety isn’t usually near the top of anyone’s lists. There are starter vacancies all across the defense, but the Lions seem pretty locked in with Glover Quin at free safety, Tavon Wilson at strong safety and Miles Killebrew as their safety/linebacker hybrid. All three of those guys had strong showings in 2016, but only one remains on the books past this upcoming season. In fact, Killebrew is the only safety under contract through 2018.

via Spotrac

The Lions may not have an immediate need at safety, but with both starting safeties set to become free agents following the 2017 season, they’re going to have plenty of decisions make, so it may be in their best interest to add some depth through free agency and/or the NFL Draft.

Possible free agent targets

Familiar faces

Rafael Bush

Bush had an okay year for the Lions in 2016, logging 511 total snaps on defense and was ranked 64th out of 89 qualifying safeties with a Pro Football Focus overall grade of 73.3. A good portion of those snaps came in coverage (70.2 percent), and he could be had for a cheap one or two-year deal as a backup safety.

James Ihedigbo

No, not really.

Other options

Jairus Byrd

I know, Byrd is a big name free agent that I’m sure plenty of teams are going to fight over. He was cut three years into his six-year, $52 million dollar contract and played poorly for the Saints, not to mention his recent injuries. Byrd is also 30 years old, which could drive his price down.

Byrd had a much better 2016 than his first two years with the Saints, but let’s be frank, not many players have succeeded under Rob Ryan as their defensive coordinator. That defense was a complete disaster.

If the Lions could sign Byrd for cheap, he would be a nice fit as their deep safety and they could move Quin back to a more natural role for him at strong safety.

Bradley McDougald

The 26-year-old, former Tampa Bay safety is coming off of his best year with the Bucs and can be had for a cheaper deal than Byrd. His 91 tackles last year was good for t-eighth among all safeties, and he has the versatility to play both safety spots, along with cornerback.

The Draft

If the Lions are unable to sign a safety to a multi-year deal through free agency, then no worries, because the draft is the perfect place to add a young prospect and groom them behind your starters.

Day 1

Obi Melifonwu, S/CB, Connecticut

Last week I profiled Melifonwu and made the argument why I believe he’s destined to play the cornerback position at the next level, but he’s shown that he has what it takes to play anywhere along the secondary. His elite size, athleticism and length allows him to cover any amount of distance as a deep safety, and he hits like a ton of bricks as a box safety.

Melifonwu has second round tape with top-20 potential and will likely be selected anywhere from picks 15-30.

Day 2

Marcus Williams, S, Utah

Williams is another safety prospect that offers plus-size and athleticism and is one of my favorites in this class.

At 6-foot-1, 202 pounds, Williams is a lanky defender and still has room to fill out his frame. He has great patience and quick twitch ability in the open field and is one of the more efficient tacklers out there.

As a deep safety, Williams is a ball hawk and has proven that with his 10 total interceptions over his final two years with the Utes. He has the uncanny ability of knowing exactly what opposing quarterbacks are looking to do and constantly finds himself in the position to make a play on the ball in the passing game.

Williams is not quite as polished in the run game as he is in the pass game, however, and is prone to overestimating his own speed and taking poor angles to the ball carrier. I’d also like to see him turn his head around more when the ball is thrown over his shoulder, but that might be nitpicking a little too much for a young safety. Regardless, Marcus Williams is likely to come off the board during the second or third round and would add some nice depth to the Lions, with the possibility of becoming their starting deep safety in 2018.

Jabrill Peppers, S, Michigan

While I’ve always liked Peppers as a prospect, I never understood the top-10 or 15 hype surrounding him following the 2016 season. Aside from Adoree Jackson, Peppers might be the best pure playmaker in the draft on all three phases, and the Lions could certainly use a player like that.

Conversely, I’m not so sure I want two safety/linebacker hybrids on this team, and while the Lions desperately need to add someone who can make plays in coverage, I don’t believe that Peppers is that type of player. I see him as more of a box safety in the NFL. Peppers no doubt would significantly improve the Lions’ return game, but they shouldn’t have to spend a second-round pick on that alone.

Budda Baker, S, Washington

Baker is another safety lauded for his versatility, but unfortunately for him, will get knocked for being undersized at 5-foot-10, 195 pounds. He is one of the more instinctual players in this draft, and while I believe he is at his best as a free safety, some teams will likely utilize his aggressiveness and slot him as a nickel to disrupt the quarterback as a pass rusher and blow up plays in the backfield as a run defender.

If Baker can clean up his technique in man coverage, he could eventually challenge Tyrann Mathieu for being the best safety/nickel hybrid in the NFL. Think of him as Jimmie Ward, but with more aggression and influence in the run game.

Day 3

John Johnson, S, Boston College

Johnson follows in Justin Simmons’ footsteps as the latest Boston College safety to put forth some superb game film along with impressive measurables. Like Marcus Williams, Johnson is one of the best open field tacklers in this year’s safety class, and he does a remarkable job of weaving his way through and around defenders to get his hands on the ball carrier and bring them down.

What separates Johnson from some of the other safety prospects is his special teams play and experience at cornerback. He proved to be one of the smoothest safeties at the NFL Combine and posted the second fastest time in the 3-cone drill, behind only Desmond King—a Day 2 free safety prospect—who ran a 6.67.

Johnson is efficient, but not as aggressive as you’d hope for a safety, but if he’s there in the fourth round or later, he’d be a steal for any team looking to add depth to their secondary.

Tedric Thompson, S, Colorado

As I get further down this list, I’m realizing how stacked this safety class truly is, especially when it comes to cover safeties, and that should come as wonderful news for the Lions, who ranked dead last in pass defense efficiency via Football Outsiders last year.

To me, Tedric Thompson is the best pure ball hawk in the entire 2017 draft class. Yep, that is not a typo. In 2016, Thompson led the Pac-12 in interceptions with seven (third in NCAA) and had the third-most pass deflections in the conference with 16.

Thompson didn’t test well at the combine, and will likely be a free safety only in the NFL, but the former wide receiver has some of the best ball skills and instincts in the draft and can cover a ton of ground as a deep safety. He may not be the most aggressive run defender, but he is an efficient tackler that is being underrated in that department. He’s a Day 2 talent that will likely be available on Day 3 due to the plethora of talent in the secondary this year.

Michael Tyson, S, Cincinnati

You can imagine the repetitive jokes that must occur when a kid named Mike Tyson is playing football, like “this is what Mike Tyson hits like?” or “watch those ears today boys, we’ve got to play against Mike Tyson today.” The former boxer once congratulated Cincinnati’s women’s basketball team for winning the national title instead of UConn, which is probably ironic to nobody but me. Anyway, Tyson is not related to the former heavyweight champion, but his father, his grandfather, and also his young boy are all named Michael Tyson.

All jokes aside, Tyson is a late-Day 3 option as a box safety and packs a punch (okay, I’ll stop) in the run game. He bobs and weaves (I’m really sorry) his way around defenders and rarely lets the ball carrier escape his clinch grasp, but his coverage skills are lacking, which makes him a likely candidate for a box safety role in the NFL.