The selection of Da’Shawn Hand in the fourth round of 2018 was met with very little fanfare. The Detroit Lions had signed on Bo Davis to be their defensive line coach, so it was pretty much a given that they were going to be paying close attention to the various defenders coming out of Alabama’s program, but Hand was mostly an afterthought. The once highly touted high school prospect had a quiet college career, but the team thought highly enough of him to sacrifice a third-round pick in 2019 to trade back into the fourth round to select him this year. His impact was expected to be as a rotational player, but after a strong camp and preseason, he came out swinging as one of the only bright spots during the team’s disastrous opener.
Hand was the No. 1 prospect in his recruiting class, above all of the quarterbacks and other players, and landing on the Alabama defense was seen to be a case of the rich getting richer. His college career was mostly forgettable, however, playing second fiddle to guys like A’Shawn Robinson, Jarron Reed, and Da’Ron Payne—all three of which would be drafted in the first two rounds of the draft. A mid-round pick himself, Hand was expected to back up his former teammate in Robinson, along with free agent signees Ricky Jean Francois and Sylvester Williams.
During the preseason, Hand was one of the only standouts on defense. Like his time at Alabama, he didn’t emerge as a pass rusher but his run defense was often stellar and some—including yours truly—projected him as a starter sooner than later. At the time, that was more due to the weakness of the front seven as a whole than it was Hand himself, but his performance in the opener against the Jets suggests we may have been underselling him.
If Hand can maintain performances like that, there’s a strong possibility he steps right into the role vacated by newly benched, former starter A’Shawn Robinson. Playing at a high level on a poor defensive line is tough, but doing so as a rookie that wasn’t considered anything more than a rotational piece is nothing short of extraordinary. The concern with Hand was that “if Bo Davis couldn’t get his enormous potential out of him at Alabama, then why should we expect him to here?”
As it turns out, we shouldn’t have expected it. But it looks like it’s still happening anyway. Here’s to hoping it continues.