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Paper Lions: Linebacker may be the Detroit Lions’ most improved unit

The Linebacker position was a mess for the Detroit Lions in 2016. On paper, it has taken a huge step forward and may be one of the defense’s better units.

Tennessee Titans v Detroit Lions Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

If there was a position that needed to get better for the Lions from pretty much any standard, it was linebacker. Starting the 2016 offseason with starters DeAndre Levy, Tahir Whitehead, and Josh Bynes, it already wasn’t a very exciting bunch. The team brought in some players to compete, but few could have prepared for the absolute horror show that unit would become by season’s end. Crushed by injuries, the team was forced to start players that had no business seeing an NFL field on defense, and the results were exactly how you’d expect. As bad as it was, it would be an easy front-runner for most improved position no matter who they brought in for 2017 since the previous year’s squad struggled so much. It’s hard not to view anything as an improvement.

2016 Training Camp squad:

DeAndre Levy, Tahir Whitehead, Josh Bynes, Kyle Van Noy, Zaviar Gooden, Khaseem Greene, Dominique Tovell, Jon Bostic, Antwione Williams


Thurston Armbrister, Steve Longa, Brandon Chubb

The starters were shaky given Levy’s prior injuries and the other two’s issues in coverage, but with athletic players like Jon Bostic and Zaviar Gooden possibly bringing some speed to the squad, there was some promise that they’d do at least okay. Bostic would never play a down for the Lions while Kyle Van Noy would be traded to the Patriots. Small schooler Antwione Williams was drafted mainly for special teams ability, but ended up starting several games after Levy went down. Bynes was cut due to injury, and eventual starter-in-name-only Thurston Armbrister wasn’t even serviceable. Tahir Whitehead had the worst season of his career and there wasn’t a single player in this crew you could look back upon and feel good about their chances of making the roster in 2017 based on their play.

2017 Pre-Training Camp Squad:

Jarrad Davis, Tahir Whitehead, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Paul Worrilow, Antwione Williams, Steve Longa, Brandon Chubb, Thurston Armbrister, Nick Bellore

Guesswork final 53:

Jarrad Davis, Tahir Whitehead, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Paul Worrilow, Antwione Williams, Steve Longa

Davis and Reeves-Maybin are obvious locks for the roster, while Tahir Whitehead should make it cleanly as the best vet presently signed. Paul Worrilow was brought in to mentor Davis while Antwione Williams showed himself to be ahead of expectations in 2016, even if he didn’t play all that well. If the team keeps a sixth LB, it’s probably a toss up between Longa, Chubb, and Bellore. We’re talking solely depth and special teams impact here, but I gave the nod to Longa, one of the more interesting players on the roster, instead of the more raw player in Chubb or 28-year-old special teamer Bellore.

Did the unit improve?

As one of the worst individual units in the NFL in 2016, it’s hard to see any scenario that this group didn’t at least improve a little bit. That said, Bob Quinn did an excellent job of addressing this position by signing solid veterans for depth like Nick Bellore and Paul Worrilow while drafting high risk/reward players in Jarrad Davis and Jalen Reeves-Maybin.

One area I’m surprised we didn’t see more focus on is tackling. It wasn’t a huge flag on Jarrad Davis’ game, but it was an occasional concern. For Jalen Reeves-Maybin, however, it was a bigger red flag than his injury history. The team has an excellent linebackers coach in Bill Sheridan. In fact, he was noted as the best linebacker coach in the NFL by Sports Illustrated in 2016. If Sheridan can correct the technical flaws for Davis and Reeves-Maybin, the team added more speed to the defense than they’ve had since 2014. Even with those concerns, this linebacking unit would have to go out of their way to be worse than the 2016 group, and with better depth coming into the season, they should be better equipped to deal with injuries than we’ve seen in several years.


How would you rank the 2017 Lions linebacking corps in comparison to 2016?

This poll is closed

  • 61%
    Better in every way at every position
    (985 votes)
  • 35%
    A little bit better
    (567 votes)
  • 2%
    About the same
    (42 votes)
  • 0%
    Not quite as good
    (5 votes)
  • 0%
    They couldn’t hold Thurston’s Armbrister
    (12 votes)
1611 votes total Vote Now