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Tracy Walker has a more expansive skill set than the Detroit Lions thought

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The Lions were thrilled when they drafted Tracy Walker. They may be even more excited now.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Tracy Walker impressed a lot of analysts in 2018. The Lions were thrilled when they drafted him. Pro Football Focus had him as one of the highest-graded safeties despite his limited snap count. The Detroit Lions decided to move on from Glover Quin this offseason, an undoubtable vote of confidence in the young safety. And it turns out the Lions coaching staff got even more out of Walker last season than they expected.

“I think Tracy last year—and certainly, last year is last year—but I think he showed us a lot of growth through the year,” Lions head coach Matt Patricia said on Wednesday. “He showed us the skill set that he had was probably a little bit more expansive than maybe what we originally thought when we looked at him on film coming out of college.”

Coming out of a school like Louisiana, Walker was asked to do just about everything. He played deep safety, he plays slot corner, he played linebacker. Hell, he even took some snaps on the edge.

But it’s one thing to see them on tape. It’s another to see it on the field at an NFL level, and that’s what the Lions got last year.

“We thought we saw some things that potentially he could do and then to be able to see that live out on the field when he got here kind of reconfirmed some things that we may be able to do with him, which was always good,” Patricia said.

Many assume Walker is simply going to take over Glover Quin’s spot as the deep safety in most scenarios. However, Walker’s arsenal of skills is much more varied than that. His size gives the Lions an option as a nickel corner who can defend tight ends one-on-one. His strong play style and solid tackling make him a candidate for the strong safety (or “joker”) role. And his instincts and speed make him a valuable asset on the deep end of the defense.

Although he played the majority of his snaps as the deep safety in 2018, Patricia warned that last season the circumstances were different and 2019 is another year.

“That was really kind of last year and last year’s fit from an overall defensive scheme and perspective and personnel,” Patricia said. “This year is different. Everybody’s back out there. The team has changed, the defense has changed, and the personnel has changed. He’s out there competing with everybody right now and trying to build on what he did last year, but I think certainly in the NFL, every team starts over every year.”

One addition is third-round pick Will Harris. Like Walker, Harris is a tall, physical defensive back. He measures almost identical to Walker. Harris is 6-foot-1, 207 pounds. Walker is 6-foot-1, 206 pounds.

Throw in Quandre Diggs, who has already displayed his versatility as a nickel corner, deep safety and strong safety, and the Lions have three interchangeable parts that will give Detroit multiple looks week by week.