With the Detroit Lions well out of the playoff race and their injury report only growing longer and longer, it’s time for both the coaching staff and the fanbase to look towards the future. For many, that likely means talking about draft order, 2020 free agents and scouting reports, but I’m not quite ready to give up on the season yet.
The Lions are starting to play a lot of young players in the final month of the season, and these could be the guys that make up the foundation for the team going forward. Their development is crucial to the future of their franchise, so for the last four weeks of the season, we’re going to devote one article per week on how they are performing. Here’s a look at how the Lions’ young players (Years 1 and 2 in the league) played against the Minnesota Vikings.
(Note: I’ll only be talking about players who logged an offensive or defensive snap vs. the Vikings. I love special teamers, but I have to draw a line somewhere.)
QB David Blough
Stats: 24-of-40, 205 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs (60.9 passer rating)
In his second career start, Blough struggled immensely. Playing on the road against Minnesota is never easy, but Blough made it especially hard by often running himself into sacks, holding the ball too long and missing open receivers. It will certainly take some time for an undrafted rookie to develop chemistry with his teammates, so this poor performance doesn’t necessarily mean anything for his long-term development. It was disappointing to see such a drastic drop off after a promising debut on Thanksgiving, though.
RB Bo Scarbrough
Stats: 19 carries, 65 yards (3.4 YPC)
Scarbrough continues to be the Lions’ workhorse back, which is a big sign that they like what they have. Consider that Kerryon Johnson has only carried the ball 18 times or more in three career games. Scarbrough has done it three times in just four games.
Scarbrough wasn’t as effective against the Vikings as he was in his previous four games, rushing for just 3.4 yards per carry. His longest run was just 7 yards.
The second-year back has brought a nice, physical nature to Detroit’s backfield. But without Kerryon Johnson, the Lions are missing a big-play threat.
RB Ty Johnson
Stats: 2 carries, 3 yards; 1 catch, 7 yards
Though he had a healthy 21 snaps on the day, Johnson continues to be a non-factor on offense. He doesn’t have a game above 30 rushing yards yet, and despite the injuries at the position, the Lions have barely used him as a punt or kick returner.
TE/FB Isaac Nauta
Stats: 1 catch, 3 yards (6 snaps)
Nauta saw his first NFL action as an actual tight end, rather than serving as a makeshift fullback. He pulled in a pass for 3 yards, but is still just feeling things out.
WR Chris Lacy
Stats: 1 kickoff return, 23 yards
With Marvin Hall sidelined for the rest of the year, Lacy is bound to get some opportunities. However, Lacy just had three offensive snaps on the day in Minnesota. It appears he may be the team’s kickoff returner going forward while Jamal Agnew continues to heal.
OT Tyrell Crosby
After Rick Wagner left Sunday’s game with an injury, the Lions’ 2018 fifth-round pick took over at right tackle and really did an admirable job.
Most of the offensive line graded out well for the #Lions, including Tyrell Crosby, who was the third-highest graded OL.— Alex Reno (@alex_reno) December 9, 2019
Wagner’s future with the team is unclear, given his hefty contract and limited dead money, so Crosby’s development could be critical to the future of the offensive line. Any regular seasons snaps he can get is great for his future.
C Frank Ragnow
Ragnow is quietly having a pretty solid sophomore year—his first as the Lions’ starting center. You know what, I’m actually underselling this... big time. Check this out:
Oh hey— Pride of Detroit (@PrideOfDetroit) December 10, 2019
Frank Ragnow is the No. 1 center in the NFL by @PFF grades.
He’s been especially good as run blocker, as the rest of the interior offensive line has been. For as much turmoil as the Lions have had on the offensive line, it looks like they may have finally gotten it right at center.
DT John Atkins
Stats: 3 tackles
Atkins continues to get a ton of playing time with all the injuries the Lions have had on the defensive line. He’s played at least 40 percent of the snaps in each of the past four games, and he had a career-high 46 snaps against the Vikings this week. On Sunday, he was on the field more often than both Damon Harrison Sr. and A’Shawn Robinson.
As for his play itself, the 320-pound lineman has proven to be an adequate run defender, but is still learning to become a more well-rounded pass rush threat.
LB Jahlani Tavai
Stats: 11 tackles
With Jarrad Davis suffering an ankle injury mid-game, Tavai got a ton of playing time on Sunday. The experience he’s getting both as an outside linebacker and as the middle linebacker are undoubtedly key to his development. Several times this year, he’s had to assume play-calling duties on defense, which is no small task for a rookie.
His performance on the field still leaves a lot to be desired, though. He was called for a personal foul penalty on a Vikings touchdown drive, had some lapses in coverage, and still looks like he’s learning stuff out there. Of course, that’s all completely understandable at this point in his career, and the experience itself may be more important than the actual results right now.
CB Amani Oruwariye
It’s hard to get a read on Oruwariye’s day—just his second career NFL start. Obviously, he stuck out in a bad way, giving up 9-yard touchdown catch on a play in which he took a bad angle.
However, Oruwariye wasn’t even targeted for the rest of the game and he didn’t log a single tackle on the day.
That all being said, the fact that Oruwariye got the start over Rashaan Melvin has to be a promising sign that the Lions like what they have in their fifth-round pick. Coaches continue to gas him up, saying that he probably would have gotten into the lineup even sooner had it not been for a knee injury that kept him sidelined.
S Will Harris
The Lions’ third-round pick continues to get a lot of experience in his rookie year, but he hasn’t quite shown the promise that Tracy Walker did last year. It’s probably not fair to compare the two, but it’ll naturally happen as the two were drafted in the same round and appear to be taking similar paths in their rookie year.
Harris, too, didn’t log a single tackle or pass breakup in his 34 snaps played. He had a quiet overall day, and it appears the Lions may be scaling back his workload. With Walker fully healthy and veteran safety Tavon Wilson playing well, Harris played in his fewest defensive snaps since Week 7.
S Tracy Walker
Stats: 13 tackles, 1 TFL
Speaking of Walker, he’s coming off one of his best performances of the year against the Vikings. Though Walker has battled through injury for the past month or two, this was a sign that the second-year safety is finally starting to feel it again.
His second year hasn’t been quite as spectacular as the hype around him following a promising rookie season. He hasn’t had an interception since Week 1 and his general playmaking ability hasn’t quite been as flashy as, say, Quandre Diggs in Seattle.
However, it’s clear Walker plans to be a key piece in this secondary going forward, and he’s done well enough in 2019 for fans to be confident in his abilities.
Moore continues to play mostly on special teams, but the undrafted rookie has already logged a total of 76 defensive snaps on the year. He didn’t do anything notable on special teams nor on defense in this game.