On Tuesday, the Detroit Lions made an odd transaction. They waived special teams player Dee Virgin. While the move itself wasn’t all that surprising, the fact that Detroit had no corresponding move, leaving them with an empty roster spot, is somewhat strange. Typically, that’s a sign the team has an addition in mind, and we’ll likely hear of it on Wednesday.
I, too, have a transaction in mind for the Lions, and it has to do with a move the Miami Dolphins made on Tuesday. They added center Wesley Johnson (remember him?) and promoted defensive end Cameron Malveaux from the practice squad. To make room for the two, they placed center Daniel Kilgore on injured reserve, but more relevant to our interests, they waived former second-round pick, defensive tackle Jordan Phillips.
The Lions should absolutely put in a claim for Phillips, and here’s why.
The Lions’ interior defensive line is really bad
Detroit was hoping to get serious contributions out of two key free agent pickups: Sylvester Williams and Ricky Jean Francois. The former had all the promise of a nose tackle, while the latter had valuable knowledge and experience of the Matt Patricia scheme. Francois has already lost the starting job to A’Shawn Robinson, who entered the season a healthy scratch. Williams has just five tackles in four starts, and even though his job is more to fill space, he hasn’t been doing that either. His PFF grade of 61.9 is good for 77th among interior defenders.
Phillips fits the physical profile of Detroit’s needs
At 6-foot-6, 341 pounds, Phillips is exactly the kind of player the Lions could use as a rotational nose tackle when Williams is ineffective, injured, tired or a combination of all three. Phillips is fairly gifted athletically (6.53 RAS), and his incredibly tall frame makes him a tough man to push around in the run game.
His NFL Draft profile reads as exactly someone this Lions defense desperately needs. From Lance Zierlein:
Massive frame with long arms. Athletic lower body for a man his size. Read-and-react two-gap nose with ability to eat space and free linebackers. Uses length effectively and was able to split double teams as season wore on.
So not only does he physically fit what the Lions need, but he excels at exactly what the Lions schematically need out of a nose.
At this point in the season, you aren’t going to pluck a player from waivers or free agency that will drastically alter the course of your season, unless said player comes with some serious baggage (hi, Dez Bryant). So, yeah, Phillips isn’t going to be the best player on the defense suddenly.
Phillips has been publicly called out for his inconsistent play before, accused of dogging certain plays when tired.
“The bottom line is Jordan has got to play better overall,” Vance Joseph, his defensive coordinator, said back in 2016. “Out of 35 plays, Jordan is playing a solid 25 plays very solidly. He’s having four or five plays where it’s not very good.”
It went on like that for a couple years in Miami, leading Jordan, once a starter alongside Ndamukong Suh, to be delegated to a rotational role. Phillips hasn’t started a game this year and has played in just 124 total defensive snaps. He wasn’t very happy about that:
Dolphins are releasing DT Jordan Phillips, per league source. He was visibly upset on the sidelines Sunday due to his playing time and had to be calmed down by teammates.— Cameron Wolfe (@CameronWolfe) October 2, 2018
And his first reaction upon getting cut by the Dolphins? Pure bliss:
And Jordan Phillips appears happy he’s out of Miami, via his IG story. pic.twitter.com/zZny0cNRkR— Cameron Wolfe (@CameronWolfe) October 2, 2018
For many, that’s a clear red flag in terms of character. Someone who doesn’t defer to the coaches may struggle when adversity inevitably hits.
Desperate times call for desperate measures
Admittedly, that’s a lot of downsides for someone I’m banging the table for, but the Lions are desperate. It’s doesn’t help that Phillips may not be well-versed in Patricia’s system and is currently the third lowest graded interior defender according to Pro Football Focus, but this team is bleeding out, allowing nearly 160 rushing yards per game and 5.3 yards per carry. Last year, the worst run defense allowed just 4.9 YPC.
Phillips had very clearly mentally checked out in Miami, and we’ve already seen some new additions make an immediate impact for Detroit. Eli Harold, added just before the season, has three sacks already. Romeo Okwara, added during Week 1, has been the leading snap-getter on the defensive line over the past two weeks, garnering over 80 percent of snaps in games against the Patriots and Cowboys.
“Change of scenery” is an often-used excuse to drum up hope that a busted player could succeed under a new team, and that could very well be what I’m pitching here. But there’s not much room for this Lions defense to fall, and a player like Phillips comes cheap (still on his rookie contract) and without much risk.
Put Phillips in a rotational role to begin in the hopes that his limited role will minimize the plays he takes off. If he shows promise and understands the scheme, there’s no reason why he couldn’t displace Sylvester Williams as an eventual starter or at least share the role equally come November.