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Next Man Up: Is Tracy Walker ready to start at safety?

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A look at the Detroit Lions’ safety position, as the torch is passed to a younger prodigy.

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Detroit Lions Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Glover Quin’s release was not a complete surprise, but that didn’t make it hurt any less. Quin was a key voice of the Lions locker room, a big contributor in the Detroit community, and a staple of the Lions defense for the last six years. His departure left a gaping hole in the role of starting safety alongside Quandre Diggs—or did it?

In this edition of our new series Next Man Up, we’ll take a deep dive into how the safety position shapes up with Tracy Walker, Quandre Diggs, and more following the departure of Glover Quin.

(Former) Starter: Glover Quin

Next Man Up: Tracy Walker

Tracy Walker has been quite the roller coaster of a story. Originally a guy nobody had heard of when his name was called on draft night, Walker is now poised to take over Glover Quin’s role at starting safety opposite Diggs. In the meantime, we’ve learned that he is cousins with Darius Slay, has scary long arms, and is pretty darn good at football.

Just from watching Walker in his limited snaps last year, a few things are clear: Walker’s special teams snap showed his willingness as a tackler as well as his ability to take good angles of pursuit. While he may not be the ball hawk that Quin was (yet), he snagged an interception in Week 2 against the San Francisco 49ers that would have put the Lions in position for a go-ahead score with less than two minutes to go. The only problem was a holding penalty that called it back. Walker wouldn’t see another interception until Week 11 against the Panthers.

Walker’s skill-set seems to be very well rounded and sufficient for him to go on to be very successful in the coming years. As late in the season as Week 15, Walker would have graded out in the top four of all safeties had he qualified with enough snaps. We haven’t seen a lot of Walker, but what we have seen definitely gives reason for hope.

With Walker and Diggs penciled in at starter, it’s important to note who lies behind the two. Right now it looks like it’ll be Tavon Wilson and Charles Washington, both of whom were with the team last year. Walker’s presence pushed Washington further out of the picture, but the former undrafted rookie fought his way onto the field to see very limited action predominantly on special teams in six games this past season.

Wilson has already reached his ceiling and probably won’t be with Detroit for many more years. Wilson took a pay cut last week that saves the Lions over a million dollars and ensures he will stick around with the team for the 2019 season. Detroit also signed free agent Andrew Adams this year, although he’s far from guaranteed a roster spot at this point. The Lions will likely be looking to upgrade their safety depth however with a younger, cheaper option in this offseason and next.

Grade: B+

As a whole, the Lions aren’t in too shabby of a position at safety. Walker is a budding star on this team and should make Glover Quin’s departure from the team a seamless transition, and Quandre Diggs is locked down on what is now looking like a bargain contract for the next three seasons.

While the Lions are in an okay position with depth, there’s significant room to improve. Free agency has been flooded with safeties this offseason, but most are older and pricier than what the Lions are looking for. This draft lacks top-end talent at safety, but some names to watch with significant potential include Chauncey Gardner-Johnson out of Florida and Darnell Savage out of Maryland, two of my favorite players to watch in this draft class.

It wouldn’t be the end of the world if the Lions stayed put at the position, but look for them to inevitably shake things up sometime between now and the 2020 season.