When the Detroit Lions traded away a 2019 third-round pick to select Da’Shawn Hand in the fourth round of the 2018 NFL Draft, there was a sigh of relief among fans. Detroit had a major need on the defensive line and the team hadn’t addressed it in free agency—Sylvester Williams signing aside—nor the first two days of the draft.
Little did fans know just how much of a treasure the team had found on the final day of the draft. Hand was a big factor on defense in his rookie season, and it seems like he’s only scratched the surface.
Expectations before 2018
Even the most optimistic fans were pretty subdued in their excitement for Hand in his rookie season. His career at Alabama was pretty unassuming. He never finished a season with more than 30 tackles, and after tallying 6.5 tackles for loss in his sophomore year, he never topped 3.5 TFLs again in a single season.
So even though Detroit didn’t seem particularly strong on the interior line, Hand was seen as a developmental project that would get some rotational time in 2019.
Actual role in 2018
2018 stats: 13 games (8 starts): 27 tackles, 3.0 sacks, 2 forced fumbles
PFF grade: 87.4 (13th among interior defenders)
Hand came on the scene and immediately made an impact. Right off the bat, he was a significant part of the defensive line rotation (had over 30 snaps in each of his first two games). Believe it or not, his most impressive games were before he even started playing next to Damon Harrison Sr.
Hand’s biggest asset is his value as both a run defender and a pass rusher. In obvious passing downs, he slides into the nose, and he consistently created pressure his rookie season. While the Lions often prefer to have A’Shawn Robinson in on early downs because of his superior run defense, Hand did more than hold his own when in the lineup.
Unfortunately, Hand’s outstanding rookie season was cut short for the past few games after suffering a knee injury in Week 15.
Outlook for 2019
Contract status: Signed through 2021 season
Because Hand’s injury wasn’t considered serious, the expectation is that he’ll be 100 percent for training camp—and there were no signs of slowing down during OTAs and minicamp. In fact, he was seen helping train some of the younger defensive linemen after practice, as he held a little summit working on technique after many had headed into the locker room.
In terms of talent and effort, there’s just no question that Da’Shawn Hand has it. The question is simply how big of a jump Hand can take in his second year and how much of an opportunity he’ll get.
The Lions’ defensive line has only gotten better since last year, and unless Damon Harrison’s contract dispute goes into the regular season, Hand will likely hold his same place in the rotation as he had last year. Will he surpass A’Shawn Robinson on the depth chart or will he continue to just serve as an extremely efficient rotational piece that will be one of the most valuable players on the field during passing downs?
Hand has done just about everything to warrant more playing time, but it’s hard to see that many more snaps coming his way in 2019. After all, he actually led all Lions defensive tackles with 455 snaps last year (46.2 percent of defensive plays).