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2017 Detroit Lions snap counts: Analyzing the playing time of the defense

A look at the snap counts for the Lions 2017 defense.

NFL: AUG 02 Lions Training Camp Photo by Steven King/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

On Tuesday, we took a look at how the Detroit Lions utilized their offensive talent. Now it’s time to analyze the other side of the ball. Here is the Lions’ defensive snap distribution for the 2017 season.

Defensive ends

Anthony Zettel: 753 snaps – 69.1%
Ezekiel Ansah: 516 snaps – 47.3%
Cornelius Washington: 489 snaps – 44.9%
Jeremiah Valoaga: 151 snaps – 13.9%
Dwight Freeney: 126 snaps – 11.6%
George Johnson: 81 snaps – 7.4%
Jacquies Smith: 68 snaps – 6.2%
Kasim Edebali: 47 snaps – 4.3%
Alex Barrett: 26 snaps – 2.4%

Analysis: The Lions had three defensive ends they rolled with for the majority of the season: Zettel, Ansah and Washington. However, the Lions absolutely could not make up their mind on that fourth rotational player. They seemingly rotated through them every single week, and even Cornelius Washington found himself a healthy scratch at one point this year.

In other words, the Lions’ depth was challenged this year, and it was completely exposed. Having nine different players see playing time at defensive end is completely unacceptable, especially considering the Lions didn’t really suffer a ton of injuries at this position. They were simply searching for talent. Hopefully, they’ll take care of that in the offseason this year instead of midseason.

Defensive tackles

A’Shawn Robinson: 737 snaps – 67.6%
Akeem Spence: 661 snaps – 60.6%
Jeremiah Ledbetter: 347 snaps – 31.8%
Haloti Ngata: 145 snaps – 13.3%
Christian Ringo: 130 snaps – 11.9%
Khyri Thornton: 68 snaps – 6.2%
Caraun Reid: 18 snaps – 1.7%

Analysis: The Lions did struggle with injuries at defensive tackle in 2017. First, they lost Jordan Hill to a preseason injury. Then, just five weeks into the season, they lost Haloti Ngata for the season. That’s two of their top three defensive tackles. As a result, undrafted rookie Jeremiah Ledbetter saw a significant portion of snaps, along with Akeem Spence.

By the end of the season, the Lions were depleted of talent. Christian Ringo finished the year as the fourth DT in each of the final six games. Despite the collective 130 snaps in those games, Ringo managed three total tackles. The Lions couldn’t find anyone better.

Linebackers

Tahir Whitehead: 950 — 87.2%
Jarrad Davis: 830 — 76.1%
Paul Worrilow: 277 — 25.4%
Jalen Reeves-Maybin: 239 — 21.9%
Nick Bellore: 106 — 9.7%
Steve Longa: 14 — 1.3%

Analysis: As mentioned in our Pro Football Focus article from Tuesday, Jarrad Davis saw a significant shift in playing time during Week 11:

His overall game participation dropped from an average of 97.0 percent of playing time in his first seven starts to just 75.3 percent in his final seven starts.

But perhaps more importantly, Davis was back up to his 100 percent participation rate in the final game of the season, playing in all 68 snaps.

The other significant development from this unit is the decline of Paul Worrilow and the rise of Jalen Reeves-Maybin. Here’s a look at their playing time over the course of the season.

While it’s been an up-and-down season for both, it’s clear that in the final five games of the season, Reeves-Maybin took over a significant role for the defense, while Worrilow’s hand in the defense steadily declined.

Cornerback

(Note: Quandre Diggs’ snaps at safety were just added to his cornerback total)

Darius Slay: 1065 — 97.7%
Quandre Diggs: 788 — 72.3%
Nevin Lawson: 556 — 51.0%
DJ Hayden: 488 — 44.8%
Teez Tabor: 190 — 17.4%
Jamal Agnew: 69 — 6.3%

Analysis: Darius Slay played more defensive snaps than any other Lions defender in 2017. Quandre Diggs’ numbers are obviously highly inflated by playing safety (in nearly every snap) of the final five games of the year.

Nevin Lawson was the clear No. 2 cornerback in 2017, considering he finished with more snaps that DJ Hayden and Teez Tabor, despite missing the final game with a concussion.

As for Tabor, 127 of his 190 defensive snaps came in Weeks 14-16. Had he not suffered a serious-looking injury in the season finale, he likely would have had an additional 30-40 snaps.

Safety

Glover Quin: 1055 — 96.8%
Tavon Wilson: 545 — 50.0%
Miles Killebrew: 352 — 32.3%
Charles Washington: 97 — 8.9%
Don Carey: 1 — 0.1%

Analysis: The Lions use of their safeties was awfully strange, specifically with Miles Killebrew and Charles Washington. Check this out:

Washington + Killebrew snaps before the bye (6 games): 305 snaps
Washington + Killebrew snaps after the bye (10 games): 144 snaps

It was believed that when Tavon Wilson went on injured reserve, one or both of these guys would see more opportunities. Instead, both of their roles actually decreased as Detroit opted to move Diggs back instead.