Two years ago, Detroit Lions management was sitting in their Allen Park war room, likely slightly impatiently. Having spent their third-round pick on safety Tracy Walker, they would have to wait deep into Day 3 of the draft to make their next selection.
But as the draft neared the middle of the fourth round, the Lions decided they were already done waiting. They went up and spent a 2019 third-round pick to get Alabama defensive tackle Da’Shawn Hand.
Many pegged Hand as a potential steal that late in the draft, even though his college career was overshadowed by the immense talent on Alabama’s defensive line. He immediately rewarded those hopeful fans with a promising rookie season, but his story hasn’t been so rosy since.
Let’s take a closer look at Hand’s 2019 season and what it may mean for the future.
Expectations heading into 2019
Hand’s 2018 season ended in injury, but it began with a ton of promise. A PFF darling in his rookie season, Hand started eight games and was a constant force both as a pass rusher (79.5 PFF grade) and as a run defender (78.7 PFF grade).
So heading into 2019, with what appeared to be an extremely solid cast of defensive linemen around him, expectations were high for Hand. Though he was still considered a rotational player, the belief was that Hand would establish himself as a force both for the present and the future.
Actual role in 2019
2019 stats: 3 games (2 starts): 6 tackles, 1 pass defended
PFF grade: 51.4 (Did not qualify for ranking)
Unfortunately, Hand suffered a serious elbow injury in the first week of training camp, and didn’t see the field until late October. His stay on the field wouldn’t last long, as an ankle injury soon emerged and cost Hand seven of his last eight games.
When all was said and done, Hand played in just 110 snaps all year, and was largely a non-factor in those games. It’s hard to fault Hand for the unfortunate injuries, but his 2019 season can only be described as a massive disappointment.
Outlook for 2020
Contract status: Signed through 2021
Detroit made some significant changes to the defensive line this year. Gone are A’Shawn Robinson, Damon Harrison Sr. and quite likely Mike Daniels. Though Detroit brought in Danny Shelton to stick at nose tackle and Nick Williams to be part of the interior rotation, it appears the Lions are preparing to give Hand a big role in 2020—perhaps even a full-time starting position.
Through two seasons, though, Hand has already managed to earn the “injury-prone” label. And while he has missed 16 games over the past two years, past injuries don’t necessarily mean there will be future injuries. Plenty of players battle through early injuries in their career only to have long, healthy careers.
Though, it is fair to question Hand’s overall abilities at this point in his career. Injuries can affect effectiveness, and if we’re being honest with ourselves, Hand’s NFL success has been too short-lived to make any assumptions about how he’ll play. His sample size is just too small to know if Hand will eventually “make it” in the NFL. It’s one thing to have a good stretch of games, it’s another to do it consistently.
And so 2020 will be a crucial year for Hand. The opportunity is there, the fit in this defense is obvious, and the team clearly likes his attitude and hard work. That Year 2/3 jump is crucial for the future of players. If Hand makes it, he could be a feature on this defense for years to come. If not, we’ll likely be lamenting would could have been.