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2017 Detroit Lions roster review: DJ Hayden outplayed Nevin Lawson

Hayden didn’t play well, but he did outplay his competition.

Detroit Lions v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Our 2017 roster review will reexamine the Lions’ roster and how it played out last season. We’ll take a look at expectations, performance and potential role in the future.

Today, we continue our discussion with Detroit Lions cornerback DJ Hayden.

DJ Hayden

Expectations before 2017

When the Lions signed Hayden to a hefty one-year, $3.75 million contract ($2.25 million guaranteed), it was pretty clear he would play a significant role on defense in 2017. Most believed Hayden was best equipped to take over the Lions’ nickelback position, seeing as though Quandre Diggs had a rough go of things in 2016. Heading into training camp, 57 percent of Lions fans—including myself—believed Hayden would win the job by the start of the season.

Actual role in 2017

2017 stats: 16 games (1 start): 44 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 9 passes defended,
PFF Grade: 50.7 (96th of 121)

Hayden did not win out the nickelback job. In fact, it was never clear if he was up for that job at all. Instead, Hayden split time Nevin Lawson as an outside cornerback, while Diggs ran away with the job in the slot. Lawson may have started in 15 games opposite Darius Slay, but Hayden played almost an even amount of defensive snaps:

Nevin Lawson: 556 snaps
DJ Hayden: 488 snaps

Hayden struggled in 2017, but his PFF grade of 50.7 is actually significantly better than that of Lawson (41.7). Hayden also had five more pass breakups. It didn’t really seem like it, but Hayden actually outplayed Lawson.

Outlook for 2018

Contract status: Unrestricted free agent

Hayden is in an odd situation heading into 2018. Both he and Lawson are unrestricted free agents. The Lions could theoretically bring both back, neither back or just one of them back.

The first key to the equation is Teez Tabor. If Tabor is ready—or close to it—chances are good that Detroit won’t bring back both Lawson and Hayden. If he still needs time, the Lions could use the depth.

If Detroit has to choose between Lawson and Hayden, who has the advantage? Since both struggled in 2017, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Lions moved on from both, but if not, I think Hayden may be their guy. Unlike Lawson, Hayden was specifically chosen by general manager Bob Quinn, while Lawson was drafted by Martin Mayhew.

Previously: DE Dwight Freeney, LB Tahir Whitehead , DE Ezekiel Ansah, S Tavon Wilson, CB Nevin Lawson, LS Don Muhlbach, LB Paul Worrilow, WR TJ Jones, TE Darren Fells, OT Greg Robinson, DT Jordan Hill

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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.