Up until Sunday night, the Detroit Lions defense didn’t have much to hang their hat on. Their run defense was porous at best, disastrous at worst. Their pass defense was almost just as bad, allowing Sam Darnold and Jimmy Garoppolo to move the ball with relative ease. Obviously, things went much better on Sunday night against the New England Patriots, but throughout it all, one player has quietly performed at an impressive level: fourth-round rookie Da’Shawn Hand.
Hand has been so good, in fact, that no other rookie interior defensive lineman has graded out better by Pro Football Focus’ metrics:
The highest graded rookies on the defensive interior through three weeks. pic.twitter.com/o0QWcxPD51— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) September 27, 2018
A brief look at the box score, and you would never suspect Hand is having the type of season he is. While his 12 tackles, one tackle for loss, leads all Lions defensive linemen, that’s not saying much considering the rest of the Lions defensive line has been pretty bad.
But even putting aside his PFF grade and his box score stats for a second, perhaps Hand’s greatest accomplishment is his immediate rise up the depth chart. Sure, the Lions’ defensive line was full of underwhelming talent and leftovers from a previous regime and scheme, but Hand managed to not only get himself a rotational role immediately, but he’s already started two games. His 92 total snap ranks third among Lions defensive linemen, only behind veterans Sylvester Williams and Ricky Jean Francois.
Where Hand has really thrived in his run defense. While the Lions, as a team, have been downright horrible at stopping opposing running backs, it mostly hasn’t been Hand’s fault, who has been holding his ground solidly at the three and five-tech positions. In the first two games, Hand had seven “run stops,” per PFF, tied for the most among interior defenders.
Ultimately, Hand is going to need some help in order to get this Lions run defense—which currently ranks last in yardage allowed (149.3 per game) and yards per carry (5.4)—turned around. But for Hand to be leading the way as a fourth-round rookie is seriously impressive.