The Detroit Lions have spent the last three offseasons really trying to make their safety room stronger and younger. Though they’ve had some talent there in the past—Glover Quin, Quandre Diggs and even Tavon Wilson come to mind—Detroit has, for various reasons, decided to move on from that group.
So in 2018, they spent a third-round pick on the position. In 2019, they did it again. And this offseason, rather than go the rookie route, the Lions opted to get a veteran experienced in Matt Patricia’s ways by sending a fifth-round pick for New England’s Duron Harmon and a seventh.
So will all of that swapping of talent pay off this season?
Here’s our 2020 Detroit Lions training camp preview of the safeties.
Roster locks: Tracy Walker, Duron Harmon, Will Harris,
On the bubble: Jayron Kearse, C.J. Moore, Bobby Price
Long shot: Jeremiah Dinson, Jalen Elliott
Key departures: Quandre Diggs, Tavon Wilson
Is this Tracy Walker’s breakout season?
Everywhere you look, local beat writers are expecting this to be Tracy Walker’s big season. From Lions Wire, to the Detroit News, to The Athletic, it seems like expectations are sky high for the 2018 third-round pick.
It’s easy to see why, though. Besides entering a third year in the NFL, which tends to be a breakout season for many young players, the addition of Duron Harmon is really the biggest key to Walker’s potential success in 2020. Harmon provides a steady presence as the team’s deep defender, which will allow Walker to utilize his incredible athleticism to do pretty much everything else on the team, from being an in-the-box run defender, to covering tight ends, to dropping back as the deep defender as an element of surprise.
Of course, Walker actually has to go out and do that before we start showering all this praise on him. Though he made a big jump last year—from 21 tackles to 103—if he wants to be that household name that many in Detroit see him as, he has to take it to another level in 2020.
Can Will Harris show his potential?
Walker isn’t the only player that needs to make a jump in 2020. Harris struggled in his rookie season last year, and it’s unclear where his future lies with the team. A young combination of Walker and Harris on the back end seems like a doable duo for the foreseeable future, but Harris has yet to show any the talent that Walker displayed his rookie season.
Harris, too, should benefit from the presence of Harmon—who will not only serve as a mentor to the young safety, but give Harris the opportunity to find out exactly where he fits on this defense.
3 undrafted rookies??
Detroit’s depth beyond their top three is extremely young. In fact, three of the remaining six safeties are rookie who went undrafted.
The most heralded of the group is Norfolk State’s Bobby Price. Though Price played for a small school and went up against poor competition, it’s his incredible athletic traits that could give him a shot at the next level.
Unfortunately for Price and the other two undrafted rookie—Notre Dame’s Jalen Elliott and Auburn’s Jeremiah Dinson—the shortened offseason, and 10 potential cuts before training camp, could really hurt their chances of making the 53-man roster or even the practice squad.
This feels pretty straightforward to me. Tracy Walker, Duron Harmon, Will Harris are your top three safeties. Free agent addition Jayron Kearse was an underrated signing—just listen to what The Athletic’s Arif Hasan said about him on our PODcast a few weeks ago. He has both experience on defense and skills on special teams, so he’s in. And C.J. Moore is the special teams talent the Lions love to keep around.
Unfortunately, that means no undrafted rookies stick around on the 53-man squad, though I do believe Price has a really good shot at the practice squad, and that’s probably where he belongs for his rookie season anyways.