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Detroit Lions’ midseason superlatives: Who is the most improved player?

Who has been the Lions’ most improved player through eight games?

Cincinnati Bengals v Detroit Lions Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

With the Detroit Lions in full-on rebuild mode, the roster was carved up last offseason as general manager Brad Holmes and coach Dan Campbell brought in new talent that fit the mold of what they wanted in a player. With not a lot of players returning from 2020, there was only a short list to choose from, but there were still several players who made the transition to the new staff and have thrived.

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

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 Detroit Lions’ most improved player at the midway point?

John Whiticar: Julian Okwara

It was a very forgettable rookie season for Julian Okwara, marred by injury and poor play. 2021 has been a different tale, however. Due to his brother Romeo’s injury, Okwara is seeing more snaps on defense and he is standing out as a result. He still needs work on his technique, but the speed and agility that made him a coveted prospect are on full display. His run defense has improved too, which is important if he wants to be more than a pass rushing specialist.

Morgan Cannon: Tracy Walker

By the time the 2020 season started, Tracy Walker found himself out of the starting lineup, even though many (myself included) thought he was poised for a breakout year. Despite not starting early on, he ended up playing a lot of snaps, but his play was largely inconsistent.

This year, under defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn and defensive backs coach/passing game coordinator Aubrey Pleasant, Walker has flourished. He has been one of the defense’s best tacklers and has been credited with four pass breakups, per PFF.

Jeremy Reisman: Halapoulivaati Vaitai

In an effort to spread the love a little bit here, I think Vaitai’s move inside to guard has gone just about as well as you could expect. Is he suddenly worth the monster contract Bob Quinn handed to him? Probably not. But Vaitai is clearly more comfortable on the inside and a much better run blocker than pass protector. I’m not sure it will be enough for him to stick around in the future, given the size of that contract, but he’s making Brad Holmes’ decision a little more difficult.

Kellie Rowe: D’Andre Swift

Swift is emerging as a pass-catching beast and already through eight games has passed last year’s 46 catches for 357 receiving yards over 13 games. Right now he’s already at 47 catches for 415 yards and has time to double it. He’s also tripled his longest reception with that 63-yarder against the Rams. I can’t help but wonder what we would’ve seen if the Lions had a healthy line or haven’t suffered major point deficits that forced them to abandon the run to get back into the game time and time again.

Erik Schlitt: Walker

Walker gets the nod for me for a lot of the same reasons I selected him as my defensive MVP. Over the last few seasons, Walker has flashed but lacked consistency. This season he has been the team’s most consistent player. He has really taken to this new scheme and coaching staff, and he looks like he can be a cornerstone building block for defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn.

Ryan Mathews: Okwara

Julian Okwara was a player who couldn’t do much in his rookie season due to the injury bug, and it looked like he was a bit buried on the depth chart at EDGE because of the talent ahead of him. So, his biggest obstacle was often overcoming a lack of playing time. With an injury to his brother Romeo, Okwara has steadily picked up more and more playing time and has shown real value as a pass rusher. In eight games, Okwara has 14 pressures and two sacks to his credit, and he’s made some marked improvements as a run defender in spots this season.

Andrew Kato: Walker

Finally put into a proper role for his playstyle and skills, Walker is playing like the high-end safety everyone hoped he would be.

Kyle Yost: Okwara

The second-year defender only appeared in six games last season after dealing with some injury problems. He has started 2021 nicely, seeing snaps in seven games and recording sacks in two of his last three outings. He still is not the most relied upon rusher, but his role should grow as the season progresses. It is not hard to see him becoming a consistent rotational piece at the very least by December.

Hamza Baccouche: Walker

Walker did a lot of talking in the offseason and had a high bar to back it up in 2021. In spite of the mess around him, he’s done somewhat well so far. I didn’t think anybody stood out in particular for most improved, but given how ugly of a down year Walker had in 2020, this was an easy win for him. He’s still not the up-and-coming premier safety we thought him to be earlier on in his career, but he’s faring well given the sheer lack of talent around him, especially in recent weeks. Honorable mention to Julian Okwara, who’s really coming into his own.

Mike Payton: Walker

I have to go back to Tracy Walker again. It’s crazy to go from a PFF grade of 51.0 to 75.8 in a season.

Poll

Who is the Detroit Lions’ most improved player at the midway point?

This poll is closed

  • 25%
    Julian Okwara
    (273 votes)
  • 59%
    Tracy Walker
    (653 votes)
  • 6%
    Halapoulivaati Vaitai
    (69 votes)
  • 8%
    D’Andre Swift
    (95 votes)
1090 votes total Vote Now