Da’Shawn Hand was one of the most curious picks the Detroit Lions made in the 2018 NFL Draft. He clearly fit a position of need for Detroit, but his career at Alabama was overshadowed by his linemates, and he wasn’t really expected to make much of an impact—especially after the Lions added defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois late in the offseason.
Trading up for a guy like that was a risky proposition, but if 2018 was any indication, it was one of the best moves the Lions made all offseason.
The top graded rookies on the defensive interior. pic.twitter.com/WKvJt885lp— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) December 26, 2018
Not only was Hand a PFF darling, he showed up on the traditional stat sheet, as well: 13 games (8 starts), 27 tackles, 3.0 sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.
But perhaps more important than any statistical accomplishment, Hand earned the respect of his teammates in 2018. All season, players warned of his talents and how good he looked in practice. Earlier in the year, the veteran Francois raved about Hand and fellow ‘Bama defender A’Shawn Robinson.
“But you can see the improvement from Week 1 to now what type of defensive linemen they were,” Francois added. “They were like that already, they just had to understand our defense, and once they did, now you’re getting the key components. Now it is our d-line. At one point, people were worried about it, now people don’t really talk about our d-line anymore.”
Now that the season is over, Francois—along with a few other teammates—displayed how impressed they were with Hand’s rookie season.
Going to be one of the greats in this league. https://t.co/gmjCRiedoW— Ricky Jean Francois (@Rbjf_99) January 2, 2019
Don’t just take it from Francois, take it from the best run-stuffing defensive lineman in the league:
This kid is going to be a problem for a long time for offenses. No cap https://t.co/taseNqACku— Damon Harrison Sr. (@snacks) January 2, 2019
Even a defensive back like Jamal Agnew can recognize greatness:
Hand’s season ended on a disappointing note. He suffered a knee injury early in the Cardinals game and missed the remaining three games. However, it doesn’t appear the knee injury should prevent him from missing any time during his offseason training.
“I’m great,” Hand said when asked about his health this week. “I feel great. I’ve been training hard, working my butt off in the training room, and that’s all I can do.”
With no surgery required for his knee injury, Hand is already on his way to building upon an impressive rookie season, and if his teammates are right, it’s only up from here.