While we all eagerly await the Detroit Lions’ 2017 draft class to come to fruition, last year’s class is working hard to cement their place on the Lions roster for years to come. In general, fans tend to expect a little too much from rookies and while forgetting how big of a step a player can make from their first year to their second.
Both head coach Jim Caldwell and general manager Bob Quinn have been stressing that point this offseason. “I would anticipate having a year to develop and a whole off-season is going to make a difference,” Caldwell said of the 2016 draft class during last month’s owners meetings. Bob Quinn reiterated that point during Thursday’s jersey reveal/fan summit.
The Lions got plenty of contributions from their rookies last year, but there are several players primed to make a significant jump in production this season. So today’s Question of the Day is:
Which second-year Detroit Lions player do you think will see the biggest improvement in 2017?
My answer: This is a tough choice, because as the Lions roster is currently set up, several second-year players will get the opportunity to make a big jump.
Miles Killebrew is bound to see a huge increase in play. With Rafael Bush no longer on the team, Killebrew will almost certainly jump into the third safety role, which is no minor position on the team. Last year, Bush pulled in over 48 percent of snaps, while Killebrew only saw the field 13.7 percent of the time.
Additionally, A’Shawn Robinson could be in for a huge sophomore year. He only started five games last year, but Tyrunn Walker is gone, giving Robinson the chance to become Detroit’s full-time starter. The Lions did add depth with Akeem Spence, but Robinson’s ceiling is much higher than that of the free agent acquisition.
However, my choice for most improved rookie is Antwione Williams. Perhaps this is born more out of hope than anything, but the fifth-round linebacker has an opportunity to make huge strides in 2017. Williams’ role in 2016 was basically negligible, contributing on special teams and spot duty when the injury bug hit Lions linebackers hard. His play left a lot to be desired. But at this point, Williams is arguably the Lions’ second-best linebacker. Though Detroit is almost certain to add a linebacker in the first two days of the NFL Draft, there are indications that the Lions are expecting Williams to be a big part of the defense in 2017. The Lions cut DeAndre Levy and chose not to re-sign depth linebacker Josh Bynes. To me, that shows a lot of faith in Williams becoming a contributor in 2017, regardless if the Lions add starting-level talent in the draft.
Which second-year player will see the biggest improvement in 2017?
This poll is closed