The Detroit Lions are a safety-happy team. For the second season in the row, they drafted a safety in the third round. They added another via free agency. In total, they have seven safeties currently on the roster—more than they have running backs or tight ends or defensive ends.
Though Detroit is likely to keep a bunch on their 53-man roster, there won’t be room for everyone. One player that has remained part of that roster for the past couple years is Tavon Wilson. But his route to the roster won’t be as easy this season.
Expectations before 2018
Going into the season, Wilson was expected to potentially be a starter alongside Glover Quin. With plenty of experience under head coach Matt Patricia’s defense, he had valuable knowledge to help Detroit’s youthful group of safeties and could help give rookie Tracy Walker the time to grow and develop on the bench.
With Quandre Diggs’ role undefined, it was unclear how much time Wilson would actually get on defense, but given Patricia’s propensity to use three safeties at once, it was pretty clear Wilson would get on the field in 2018.
Actual role in 2018
2018 stats: 15 games (3 starts): 36 tackles, 1.0 sacks, 0 passes defended, 0 INTs
PFF grade: 68.0 (46th among safeties)
Wilson was routinely the third safety in the game, mostly playing as a box safety or, on occasion, nickel corner.
His play was somewhat reliable, but not too flashy. Like many of the Lions’ defensive backs in 2018, he was a solid run defender, a great tackler, but just okay in coverage.
As the season went on, however, his role with the defense decreased. From Week 12 to Week 16, he only had 34 total snaps on defense—including a game against the Rams in which he did not play a single defensive snap.
Outlook for 2019
Contract status: Signed through 2019 season
This offseason, Wilson took a salary reduction just to stay with the Lions, so he’s clearly happy with where he’s at. The question is simply whether the Lions can afford to keep him on the roster simply in terms of talent.
Detroit’s secondary is now full of physical run defenders. Just look around: Quandre Diggs, Tracy Walker, Will Harris.
That being said, Wilson has a few assets that remain quite valuable to the team. For one, he’s still the most experienced defensive back on the team in this scheme—something that should not go overlooked when considering the youth of both Harris and Walker. Additionally, Wilson can contribute on special teams, which could push a guy like Charles Washington—also valuable on special teams—off the roster.
At this point, with the salary reduction, Wilson seems like an asset worth keeping around. He represents just a $2.1 million cap hit in 2019, and while the Lions could recoup over half of that if released, Wilson is worth the extra money.
Should Tavon Wilson make the Lions’ 53-man roster?
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