Ever since the Detroit Lions drafted Miles Killebrew in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL Draft, fans have been waiting for the former safety to break out and become one of the best value picks from that year’s draft. Every year, it seems Killebrew falls short of those lofty expectations.
A position change to linebacker and a loaded defensive roster makes 2019 a daunting year for Killebrew—I had him on the outside of my latest 53-man roster projection. However, the early signs out of training camp are quite positive.
First, there’s his special teams skills, which he has proudly displayed for the team over the past few seasons. On Wednesday morning, head coach Matt Patricia called Killebrew a “critical” member of their special teams unit.
“(He’s) one of the guys that’s out there in all four phases, which is critical for us as a team to have those guys,” Patricia said. “Every single week that’s a huge phase of the game—they dive into the game plans, they help some of the teammates that are maybe on one or two phases. They’re kind of the glue that pulls all of those different special teams together, the guys that are your core special teams guys. It’s just a huge value to the team.”
That’s not exactly the kind of praise you’d heap upon a roster bubble guy.
But Killebrew has stood out as a defender during training camp, too. Over the weekend, Killebrew made plays in back-to-back days, jarring the ball loose from Mark Thompson one day and Nick Bawden the next practice. And Patricia has taken notice.
“I think he’s really made some huge strides for us on the defensive side of the ball,” Patricia said. “Through camp, he’s made a lot of plays out there. He’s gotten the ball out a couple of times, he’s forced a couple different—we call them turnover situations or ball disruption situations. Really pleased with his work ethic right now and what he’s trying to do in his growth.”
Now that’s not to say Killebrew is suddenly a roster lock. Most of his playing time is with the third-team defense (although injuries allowed him to get a handful of reps with the first team on Wednesday), and once the Lions are fully healthy, it’s going to be hard to justify a spot on the roster.
Still, there is a big need for special teamers on this roster, and they have to prove that in an injury pinch, they can come in and provide an adequate performance on defense, as well. Thus far, Killebrew is doing both.