2018 was an interesting season for the Detroit Lions. While the season obviously didn’t go as planned, it was a transitional year for the team. With a new head coach, a new philosophy and a completely different scheme, we saw some players’ impact on the team lessen (Glover Quin, Jalen Reeves-Maybin), but we also saw some players come out of nowhere to make significant contributions.
Today, we honor the latter category. Detroit was not short of Breakout Player of the Year candidates, so here are the 2018 nominees for the award.
(Note: There were a lot of nominations for rookies that I did not count here. I didn’t include them for two reasons. One, there is a separate Rookie of the Year Award for these players. Two, “breakout” suggests breaking through a personal barrier or setting personal bests. That doesn’t really apply to players’ first years.)
Okwara didn’t even start the season with the Lions. Okwara was claimed after the Giants released him during their roster cutdown at the beginning of the regular season. It was a wildly unpopular move among Lions fans, as the team cut fan favorite Anthony Zettel to make room for him.
Okwara came to Detroit with just 1.0 sack to his name and four games started in two years. He would end the season with 14 starts and a team-high 7.5 sacks.
Okwara wasn’t just productive on the stat sheet, but he was an incredibly reliable player—finishing the season by playing in 716 defensive snaps (72.7%), over 250 more snaps than any other defensive lineman.
Kennard was Detroit’s “splash” signing in free agency in 2018. His statistical output with the Giants before his time in Detroit was underwhelming—just 9.5 sacks in four years and had never started more than 11 games in a season.
However, Kennard was a key piece of the Lions defense. As the stand-up edge setter on the left side of the defense, Kennard was probably the most consistent pass rusher the Lions had, and he finished with a career-high 7.0 sacks.
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We all saw the potential in Kenny Golladay in his rookie year. From the very first game of his career, it was obvious the lanky wide receiver was capable of eye-popping plays. But injuries and limited opportunities caused him to just produce 477 yards and three touchdowns all year.
Entering 2018 as a full starter, Golladay essentially doubled his output, both in stats and highlights. 1,063 receiving yards and five touchdowns later, and we’re talking about Golladay potentially assuming WR1 duties in 2019.
Though Golladay occasionally struggled down the stretch when injuries and trades forced him into that No. 1 role, he still looked on his way to making that jump.
A year ago, we were talking about how A’Shawn Robinson may have been doomed by the Lions’ second-round pick curse. Robinson was sure to make the team, but questions were whether he’d ever live up to his draft stock and whether he’d ever even be a starter.
Those worries were only exacerbated when Robinson was a Week 1 scratch, despite being healthy.
But Robinson very quickly changed the narrative of his career once he got back in the game. Robinson became a stud run defender, even before Detroit added Damon Harrison Sr. And when the two were paired up, the Lions suddenly emerged as one of the best run-stuffing defenses in the league.
The Lions defensive line is an elite group in run defensehttps://t.co/MOuW9j2Wi5 pic.twitter.com/GSOUG30MRF— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) January 23, 2019
When the Lions drafted Frank Ragnow, Graham Glasgow’s future was unclear. Would Ragnow stay at center and move Glasgow out? Would Ragnow move to guard? Were the Lions unhappy with Glasgow and already preparing for his replacement?
Glasgow responded by having his best season to date, and for the second straight year, he nearly played in every single snap. After literally not missing a single play in 2017, Glasgow only missed one snap last year. According to PFF, Glasgow was the 15th ranked center in the league and sixth in run blocking.
Who was the Lions’ breakout player of the year in 2018?
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