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Detroit Lions’ midseason superlatives: Who is the team’s defensive MVP?

Who has been the Lions’ best defensive player through eight games?

NFL: Detroit Lions at Los Angeles Rams Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

From a statistical standpoint, the Detroit Lions defense is in the bottom third of the league in nearly every category, but as we have seen on Sundays, they haven’t always been put in the best spots by the offense. Season-ending injuries and stints on injured reserve haven’t helped matters either, but we have seen flashes of potential from multiple players that can give fans hope for the future.

So let’s continue our bye week series of 2021 Lions midseason superlatives with our staff’s picks for the midseason defensive MVP.

Note: In order to get these articles submitted on time, some of these responses were given before Week 8’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Who is the Lions’ midseason defensive MVP?

Erik Schlitt: Tracy Walker

The Lions’ defense is improving, not necessarily statistically, but you can see development happening all over the field. While there is noticeable growth, there are still ebbs and flows to every young player’s game, as they work on establishing consistency.

Walker gets the nod for me here, as he is the one player on this defense that has found his consistency and produced throughout the season. Per PFF, Walker is the highest graded Lions player in run defense and pass coverage (save Jalen Elliott who has a higher grade, but only has five coverage snaps). Walker is the anchor of a young secondary and if he finishes the season the way he played the first half, a new contract should be waiting for him.

Ryan Mathews: Jerry Jacobs

Here we are, halfway through the season, and this defense has lost more impact players than anybody could have stomached to hear heading into this year. No Romeo Okwara, no Jeff Okudah, and the hits just kept on coming, especially at cornerback, but those misfortunes have resulted in the Lions discovering one helluva player in Jerry Jacobs.

Jacobs has made the most of his opportunity and done it against some incredibly talented receivers—his play against Cincinnati where he played about as well as anyone could have against the frontrunner for offensive rookie of the year—Ja’Marr Chase—is definitely a highlight to this season where there hasn’t been much to circle.

Andrew Kato: Alex Anzalone

While this answer may have been different if Romeo Okwara was healthy and playing, the signing of Alex Anzalone this offseason is turning out to be a winner in so many ways. Remember when the Lions couldn’t cover anybody underneath? Anzalone’s stellar play in coverage has fixed that. Not only has Anzalone gotten it done as a cog in the defensive machinery, but he’s also regarded as an important veteran leader holding the unit together.

Hamza Baccouche: Amani Oruwariye

I don’t know man, who else can you give this to? The defensive line rotates like a carousel and Trey Flowers has been invisible for much of the season, and the linebacking unit continues to evolve week by week with a fluctuating Alex Anzalone holding down the middle. The back end is, well, the back end, and while Tracy Walker has certainly improved from last year I’m far from ready to call him defensive MVP.

In the sense of who is most important to the defense, I think removing Amani Oruwariye is probably the most detrimental move to the defense right now, although any time your replacement is Will Harris you deserve to be in contention, so honorable mention to Tracy Walker from that perspective.

Jeremy Reisman: Walker

The stat sheet may not show it, but Walker is playing like the athletic, instinctive safety that had been dormant for the past two years. Though he doesn’t have an interception himself, he’s basically been responsible for two, due to fantastic breaks on the ball. He’s also channeled his inner Quandre Diggs with some seismic hits this year. All in all, Walker is finally playing fast and confident again, which is fun to watch.

Kyle Yost: Walker

The defense as a whole has been rough, but Walker is starting to be the player that the Lions hoped he could be. The counting stats are nothing special, with a single sack to go with four pass breakups and no picks, but that is not how a safety’s value is best measured. Pro Football Focus is fairly favorable on nearly every aspect of his game, and it feels good to actually have a defensive back to build around.

Morgan Cannon: Walker

As young and inexperienced as this secondary is, having Tracy Walker playing at this high of a level has been huge for the defense. He has consistently been around the ball and has delivered some highlight-worthy hits as a result. After an up and down year under the prior regime in 2020, Walker is playing with new confidence and swagger as the elder statesmen and leader of the secondary.

Mike Payton: Walker

Tracy Walker has shocked me this year. In 2020 he took a massive downturn in his career. He was graded out at 51.0 by Pro Football Focus. It looked like Walker would be out of here soon. I even thought he was going to get cut before camp started. That’s all changed now. Walker has turned into one of the best safeties in the league and if the Lions hope to keep him in Detroit, he’ll probably wind up being one of the highest-paid too.

John Whiticar: Walker

It seems evident that Tracy Walker was a square peg in a round hole in Matt Patricia’s defense. Aaron Glenn has Walker playing at a Pro Bowl level—he probably won’t get the nod, but he’s deserving. Remember those years where Glover Quin was an absolute menace in the secondary? The Lions have a young version of that with Tracy Walker. The question is, do they re-sign him?

Kellie Rowe: Derrick Barnes*

Legitimately sad I can’t quickly answer Romeo Okwara here. So...let’s define the most valuable defensive player a little differently — let’s instead decide who is most valuable in the future*.

Yes, I know that’s cheating, but from what we’ve seen so far, Derrick Barnes could be a key part of the future of the Lions. The rookie has seen a mostly steady increase in snaps since the Lions moved on from veteran Jamie Collins Sr. In Week 6, Barnes played a career-high 32 snaps, along with a career-high nine tackles and first-pass defended to accompany it. The more playing time, the more production? Worth noting — he was the highest-graded defensive player against the Eagles at 77.7 (per PFF) after seven tackles and one for a loss. He’s displayed athleticism and explosiveness, and has time in this dumpster fire of a season to hone his skills.

Poll

Who is the Lions’ defensive MVP?

This poll is closed

  • 65%
    Tracy Walker
    (392 votes)
  • 8%
    Jerry Jacobs
    (50 votes)
  • 13%
    Alex Anzalone
    (83 votes)
  • 6%
    Amani Oruwariye
    (41 votes)
  • 5%
    Derrick Barnes
    (36 votes)
602 votes total Vote Now