Through two years in the NFL, Marquis Flowers had a pretty common football career for a sixth-round draft pick. As a rookie, he beat the odds and made the Cincinnati Bengals’ 53-man roster. But his 2015 season would only include contributions on special teams. The safety turned linebacker would end up missing the 2016 season due to injury and that would be the end of his time in Cincinnati.
Early in the 2017 offseason, the Patriots took a flyer on Flowers, trading a seventh-round draft pick for the special teamer. Considering the Patriots’ affinity for special teams players, the trade barely showed up on anyone’s radar.
Fast forward to Week 16. Flowers, in his second career start, notches 2.5 sacks against the Bills and tallying a team-high 10 tackles (three for losses).
So what changed? You guessed it, Matt Patricia.
Mark Daniels of the Providence Journal has a story on how Patricia’s confidence in Flowers led to his breakout year in 2017.
“I’ll never forgot, I was walking in the hallway and coach Matt Patricia came up to me and said, basically, to keep trying to get better and he likes me, believes in me and really believes I can help the team win,” Flowers said. “That was the first time I ever heard that from a defensive coordinator since I’ve been in [the NFL]. I’m like, ‘whoa. Is he lying?’ Then I went home and it put even more [confidence] in me – like, ‘come on, this is not where you’ve been. You’ve got a chance to help the team win.’ I can just say that coach Matt Patricia and coach Brian Flores, they believed in me.”
Flowers never looked back. He was a key part in the Patriots’ drastic defensive turnaround this year, as New England (see: Patricia) found a way to channel all of Flowers’ athleticism into something valuable on the field. His speed proved extremely helpful as a pass rusher (3.5 sacks on the year) and as a quarterback spy—as we saw in last week’s game against the Titans.
@Patriots coordinators are out here with some Star Wars Stuff..little teaser for an article I’m writing on Matt Patricia @Lions fans watch and read...@PatriotsViews @TomLeyden @davebirkett @BenVolin @PatsFans @LionsNewsNow pic.twitter.com/d2qKT9Slv5— Dan Orlovsky (@danorlovsky7) January 19, 2018
(Note: Flowers is the linebacker next to Kyle Van Noy)
For Detroit Lions fans, it’s easy to see how Patricia’s mentoring skills could translate to the Lions’ roster. Take, for example, Miles Killebrew, a player who many think could make a similar transition from safety to linebacker. Lions coaches failed to find a regular role for Killebrew in 2017, despite some promising signs of growth from the former fourth-round pick.
With the emergence of Quandre Diggs as an option at strong safety and the potential return of Tavon Wilson—who is set to become a free agent—there could certainly be a part-time role available for Killebrew as a situational pass rusher or quarterback spy, essentially adding another linebacker to a shallow depth chart.
Like Flowers, Killebrew will be entering his third year in the NFL with little to show for it. But Killebrew arguably has better athleticism, meaning Patricia will have even more to work with. Though Killebrew would likely have to beef up a little to assume a true linebacker role, he’s undoubtedly one of the most untapped players currently on the roster. If Patricia can work his magic on him like he did with Flowers, we could see a potential breakout year in 2018.