The 2017 Detroit Lions were a team that relied upon its depth. After losing players like Taylor Decker, Haloti Ngata and Kerry Hyder early in the year, Detroit was forced to call upon some players that they didn’t expect to have significant roles in 2017.
And while not everyone was up for the task, there were a handful of players that took the opportunity to break out in 2017. Others just took a big step in their careers. Here are your candidates for 2017 Detroit Lions Breakout Player of the Year.
Stats: 16 games (11 starts): 55 tackles, 1.0 sacks, 3 INTs, 1 forced fumble
After an extremely promising rookie season, Diggs took a huge step back in 2016, ranking as one of the worst cornerbacks in the league per Pro Football Focus.
However, 2017 was a redemption year for the young corner. Not only did Diggs look a lot better at nickel corner, but when Tavon Wilson was placed on injured reserve, Diggs was a revelation as the team’s new strong safety. Diggs was consistently laying out receivers and even tallied an interception in three straight games after the position change.
Stats: 16 games (16 starts): 43 tackles, 6.5 sacks. 1 forced fumble
With no Kerry Hyder on the team, it was up to second-year player Anthony Zettel to take a huge step in 2017. After playing just 215 total defensive snaps in his rookie year, Zettel started in all 16 games this season for a total of 753 snaps.
And Zettel took full advantage of the playing time, especially early in the year. In the first nine games of the season, Zettel had 6.0 sacks and 29 tackles. Unfortunately, his productivity slowed and he had just 0.5 sacks and 14 tackles in the final seven games.
Marvin Jones Jr.
Stats: 16 games (16 starts): 61 catches, 1,101 yards, 9 TDs
Jones had a good, but inconsistent year in 2016, and that seemed to spill over into the first month of the 2017 season. However, after Week 5, Jones was a monster. In the final 11 games he caught 47 passes for 917 yards and seven touchdowns.
Not only did he finish with his best career year, but he also matched up well against the rest of the league. He finished as the second-most valuable receiver in the NFL per Football Outsiders’ DYAR stat. He was also ninth in receiving yards and first in yards per reception (18.0)
Stats: 16 games (9 starts): 53 catches, 574 yards, 4 TDs
Flashback to the 2017 trade deadline. Eric Ebron’s career in Detroit was over. He was almost certainly going to be traded, and even if it didn’t end up happening, there was no way the Lions were going to shell out the $8.25 million he’s owed in 2018.
But the trade deadline passed and Ebron remained with Detroit. That’s when he broke out. 38 catches, 414 yards and three touchdowns in just nine games. That’s good enough for the fifth most receptions and receiving yards among tight ends during that stretch.
Because of Ebron’s breakout in the final two months of the season, it’s certainly possible Ebron sticks around in 2018, too.
Stats: 16 games (16 starts): 60 tackles, 26 passes defended, 8 INTs
Slay was far from an unknown heading into the 2017 season. He was easily the Lions’ best cornerback on the team, and arguably a top-10 corner in the league.
But he took his game to an all new level in 2017. First-team All Pro, Pro Bowl cornerback, league-leader in both interceptions and passes defended. Slay had a monster year in 2017, and although he wasn’t a breakout star in Detroit, he certainly broke out on a national stage.
Who was the Lions’ Breakout Player of the Year in 2017?
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Marvin Jones Jr.