The popular analytics website Pro Football Focus ranked all 32 NFL secondaries based on their own rankings and the Detroit Lions ranked surprisingly high. What makes the Lions ranking more interesting is that the individual player rankings aren’t all that impressive, except for two pretty obvious exceptions. Only Glover Quin and Darius Slay ranked above average by their player rankings while one each ranked average, below average, and poor. Per PFF:
The Lions book their 12 spot via two of the most underrated players at their respective positions in the NFL. Slay has broken up 40 passes over the past four seasons and only allowed a passer rating against of 55.6 in 2017. Quin on the other hand has graded out above 80.0 for five of the last six years.
Looking at the rest of the rankings both below and above the Lions at 12th, it’s very apparent that they stand out. All five of the Patriots starters (who ranked right behind the Lions at 13th) rated higher than the Lions’ third best player per PFF’s rankings. Additionally, almost every player PFF lists (five per team, so over 150) ranked higher than starting safety Tavon Wilson’s 45.4 score. So why did the Lions rank so highly when only two of their players are even notable enough to mention?
That answer, quite simply, lies in the players spelled out in their write up. Darius Slay led the NFL in pass breakups in 2018 as well as interceptions. A player who just keeps getting better every year he plays, Slay is firmly in the discussion for the best cornerback in the NFL and ought to be a consensus top five (I say ought to be only because some people don’t really watch as much football as they should if they’re going to rank top fives). Glover Quin, mentioned as (criminally) underrated, has been one of the best safeties in the NFL for years. With these two players in your secondary, you can make a case for your secondary being ranked above more well rounded teams.
Darius Slay will be building on the Pro Bowl resume he put up the past few seasons and should cement himself in the national consciousness this year. His trademark finger wag and indomitable swagger set him apart from the pretenders in the league. Nobody possesses the combination of ball skills, coverage ability, and sure tackling that Darius Slay does. Glover Quin, meanwhile, is a tough as nails ironman and team leader who also has great ball skills and tackling ability. It’s a crazy good duo.
The problem going into the 2018 season is if that level of play holds true, it’s going to be difficult to field a stronger defense. The team can’t survive if only one safety and one corner are playing well, even if they play at the level Quin and Slay have. No team can function if only 40 percent of their secondary is doing their job, so the Lions are going to need at least one and more likely several of their defensive backs to really step up their game.
Quandre Diggs had a terrible 2016, but bounced back well in 2017 which culminated in notching several highlight reel hits and interceptions late in the year when he transitioned to safety. Tavon Wilson’s inconsistencies are likely to once again see him on the bench while a younger player (Diggs, Miles Killebrew, Tracy Walker, or someone else) picks up the slack. DeShawn Shead, recently signed on a short-term deal, may get time across from Slay or at safety, if needed. Regardless of who picks up their game, the team needs a spark.
What do you think of the team’s secondary rankings? Who do you think is going to take the leap and push this secondary from top 15 to top 5? Let us know in the comments.
One popular candidate to take that leap is 2017 second-round pick Teez Tabor. Tabor sat out most of the 2017 season despite the non-Slay corners under-performing, and while he played passably late in the season when he finally worked into the rotation, he never officially tallied a single pass breakup. Tabor had incredible reaction speed in college, but his speed and explosion were huge question marks entering the NFL. Still, he’s going to get every opportunity to push this unit from a two man show to three and that might just be enough to make them a top five group.