Two months ago, Lions Twitter went into a frenzy when it became evident that former All-Pro New York Giants safety Landon Collins was set to be a free agent. Collins’ unique combination of size, speed, and ball skills made him a hot commodity on the market, and it wasn’t typical for a player of his caliber to become available in his prime.
Despite the Lions looking set at the position, fans were drooling over the prospect of Collins joining projected starters Tracy Walker and Quandre Diggs in a three-safety look similar to what the Los Angeles Chargers deployed with tremendous success in 2018.
The plan never came to fruition as the Lions splurged elsewhere in free agency and Collins signed a six-year, $84 million deal that landed him in the nation’s capital. The Lions turned ahead to the draft and most assumed they were content with what they had at safety with the blossoming Tracy Walker set to sidekick Diggs in the fall and a few seasoned veterans backing them up.
Turns out, that wasn’t the case.
Next Man Up: Will Harris
For the second consecutive year, the Lions spent their third-round draft pick on a safety, this time grabbing Boston College’s Will Harris with the 81st overall pick.
It looked like Tavon Wilson and Charles Washington were going to back up the safety position in reserve/special teams capacities, but thrusting Harris into that group shakes up the picture.
Harris is a very athletic, hard-hitting safety. He excels in landing big hits, sometimes in place of going for the ball, but gets there with elite closing speed. In short, he’s much like a safety version of Jarrad Davis.
With the 81st pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, the #Lions select Will Harris, SS, Boston College.— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) April 27, 2019
Will Harris posted a Elite #RAS with Good size, Elite speed, Good explosiveness, Great agility at the SS position. pic.twitter.com/kdlalXfSqz
His ball skills may not be as polished as Collins, but watching Harris sure does make the desire for a three-safety look resurface. Harris’ ceiling would look something like Landon Collins or Devin McCourty, although mimicking either one would take some refinement to his ball skills. On the flip side, I’d mark his floor as peak Miles Killebrew—speaking of whom, the Lions’ selection of Harris all but guarantees Killebrew roster spot is tenuous at best.
Harris will take time to get acclimated to Matt Patricia’s intricate defensive scheme and the speed of the NFL game, but his raw athletic ability and play-making ability should translate well. Likewise, having Tavon Wilson around on a reduced paycheck means he can mentor Harris, with whom Wilson shares a similar style of play.
Harris’ long speed and hard-hitting nature makes him an immediate candidate to excel on special teams, and he’s in a unique position to get mentored and excel in the long term. Harris also marks a significant step up at the third safety position on the depth chart and makes the aging Wilson expendable, perhaps as soon as this fall if Harris adapts quickly enough.
Safety wasn’t a position of need this offseason, but the Lions front office took a proactive approach and will be rewarded with the potential for three-safety looks and a much smoother transition as the bottom of the safety depth chart inevitably sees turnover throughout the next year.