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Top 5 Detroit Lions 2017 camp battles: No. 4 - Strong safety

Is Miles Killebrew ready to take over as the starting safety opposite Glover Quin?

NFL: Preseason-Detroit Lions at Pittsburgh Steelers Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

Today we continue our countdown of the top five Detroit Lions training camp battles of 2017. Monday, we broke down the battle for Detroit’s kick and punt return jobs. That battle is extremely wide open with no clear leader heading into camp. Today’s camp battle is much more clearly defined.

Detroit Lions camp battle No. 4: Strong safety

The case for Tavon Wilson

Wilson fought off Rafael Bush and won the Lions’ strong safety job last offseason. Though Wilson didn’t have eye-popping stats as a pass defender (4 passes defended, 2 INTs), he was quite the force in the running game. He finished with 89 total tackles, good for second-most on the team and 13th-most among NFL defensive backs.

But Wilson wasn’t just racking up empty tackles. According to Pro Football Focus, Wilson ranked eighth among safeties, grading out at 88.3 as a run defender.

Wilson was one of the most underappreciated players on the Lions' defense last year, and now that he’s entering a contract year, he may be playing at his best.

However, it’s worth noting that back in late June, a former girlfriend filed suit against Wilson, alleging that he physically abused her at a nightclub. Wilson’s lawyer called the lawsuit “meritless,” but there has been no update in this story since TMZ broke it on June 23.

The case of Miles Killebrew

As a rookie, Killebrew saw his role slowly increase as the season went on. By the end of the season, Killebrew was still solidly fourth on the depth chart behind Glover Quin, Wilson and Bush, but he was also garnering a significant portion of snaps.

And when Killebrew was on the field, he always seemed to make the most of it. Despite only playing 140 defensive snaps, Killebrew managed 28 tackles (including special teams). Much of Killebrew’s success came from Detroit’s three-safety nickel package, which was used often when the Lions were suffering from a handful of injuries at linebacker.

While Killebrew quickly became known as one of the Lions’ most reliable third-down tacklers, he was also quietly proving his worth as a pass rusher:

With his rookie year behind him and Rafael Bush back in New Orleans, Killebrew is bound to see the field plenty more in 2017, but can he eclipse Wilson this early in his career?

Who has the advantage entering training camp?

There’s no doubt that this is Wilson’s job to lose, but there’s another option to consider. While Killebrew has an uphill climb to reach Wilson, the Lions may have a different plan for him. Rafael Bush, last year’s No. 3 safety, played more than 48 percent of defensive snaps in 2016. That is no insignificant role.

So while Killebrew isn’t likely to take Wilson’s job right away, there’s no doubt the Lions will use him in a very significant role this year. How Killebrew plays in training camp and the preseason may determine just how big that role will be in 2017.


Who will win the Lions’ strong safety job?

This poll is closed

  • 61%
    Tavon Wilson
    (328 votes)
  • 38%
    Miles Killebrew
    (205 votes)
533 votes total Vote Now

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After winning their first NFC North title in 30 years, the Lions have unfinished business this offseason. Stay updated with Jeremy Reisman through Pride of Detroit Direct, our newsletter offering up exclusive analysis. Sign up with NFCNORTH30 to get 30% off after your free trial.