A few weeks ago, we ran a poll for who you thought would be the Lions Rookie of the Year. We received 500 responses and more than 60 percent of you chose first-round pick Jarrad Davis as the most likely to receive that honor with 305 votes.
Down near the very bottom of that poll was sixth-round defensive lineman Jeremiah Ledbetter with only nine votes. Very few expected the athletic, but undersized defensive tackle to make much noise as a rookie. Buried behind Haloti Ngata, A’Shawn Robinson, and Akeem Spence, he was staring down a handful of snaps a game and that’s it. The former Arkansas Razorback had different plans.
One of the most athletic prospects in the draft, Ledbetter’s only knock athletically at defensive tackle was weighing in at only 280 pounds. The Lions asked him to put on weight and play DT almost exclusively, and he’s managed to put on nearly 20 pounds without losing any of his signature explosiveness or agility. His first step in college wasn’t consistent, but it was pretty amazing when he beat his linemen off the snap. He’s far too quick for most guards to handle, and he has brought that skill to the NFL.
Something that shouldn't go unnoticed, #Lions rookie DI Jeremiah Ledbetter played 33 snaps on Sunday and earned an 80.5 overall grade.— Brett Whitefield (@PFF_Brett) September 12, 2017
While he’s played some closed end, the Lions have mostly used him directly in the defensive tackle rotation alongside Haloti Ngata or A’Shawn Robinson. This allows the big men to eat up space while Ledbetter (or Spence) uses that explosive first step to shoot through the line and disrupt plays in the backfield. It’s helped Ledbetter go from unknown late-round rookie to one of the highest rated rookies by Pro Football Focus through the first two weeks of the season.
Top graded #Lions from MNF on D:— Brett Whitefield (@PFF_Brett) September 19, 2017
Ziggy Ansah - 85.9
Jarrad Davis - 82.3
Darius Slay - 79.8
J Ledbetter - 79.8
Tahir Whitehead - 78.1
We still have a lot of season to go, but the strides that Jeremiah Ledbetter has taken in his first few games as a pro have been staggering compared to what was expected of him. In fact, forget expectations for a second, he’s just been impressive in general. He’s only amassed three tackles and no sacks yet, but Ledbetter has been as impressive as you could possibly expect of a rookie, even a highly drafted one.
If he continues to play as strong as he has, you can bet you’re going to see him getting more work in the rotation and showing why Bob Quinn’s belief in him was more than just as a guy who can work in a rotation, but a guy who has long-term starter potential.