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2021 Detroit Lions free agent profiles: Miles Killebrew remains a key cog in special teams

He’s not a flashy player, but if Detroit wants to keep their special teams unit ‘special,’ they should re-sign Killebrew.

New York Giants v Detroit Lions Photo by Amy Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images

While we all love to see our team make splashes in free agency, the truth is every NFL team has to fill their roster with players that simply serve specialized roles that aren’t all that flashy.

That will likely be especially true for the 2021 Detroit Lions, who are not only working on a strict budget this year but will not likely be competing for much given the current limitations of their roster.

In other words, they’ll likely be bargain bin shopping for most of the offseason. They need not look further than their own backyard for a signing that makes a lot of sense as an affordable role player. Miles Killebrew is exactly the kind of signing this team should be making this offseason, as long as he’s willing to stick around.

Previous free agent profiles: Oday Aboushi, Danny Amendola, Matt Prater, Jamal Agnew, Everson Griffen, Duron Harmon, Kenny Golladay, Don Muhlbach, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Darryl Roberts, Marvin Jones Jr., Adrian Peterson

Miles Killebrew

Expectations heading into 2020

The Lions re-signed Killebrew to a one-year deal after a couple weeks of testing free agency. But after Detroit traded for Duron Harmon and signed Jayron Kearse, there was no expectation for Killebrew as a defender. This was a pure special teams signing, though, with a new special teams coordinator on the team, it was unclear how much they would favor Killebrew, even though he had been one of the strongest specialists the Lions have had over the past few years.

Actual role in 2020

15 games (0 starts): 12 tackles
PFF grade: 86.1 special teams grade

Killebrew did not see a single snap on defense, but he was second on the team with 361 special teams snap. He was one of just a couple of players who played in all four phases of special teams, and for the second straight season, he led the team in special teams tackles.

The former Lions’ fourth-round pick continues to be one of the stronger, most-versatile special team players this team has, but it appears—at least under the old regime—that he’s not viewed as a capable defender. Overall, Killebrew has consistently been a near-elite player on special teams for his entire career. Here are his career PFF special teams grades:

2016: 90.1
2017: 76.6
2018: 51.9
2019: 77.9
2020: 86.1

Outlook for 2021

Contract status: Unrestricted free agent

With another change in special teams coordinator, Killebrew’s future with the team continues to be uncertain. Detroit’s new defense promises to be based more on speed and quickness, which fit Killebrew’s profile better, it’s hard to believe at this point in his career he’s going to turn around and suddenly become a valued piece on defense, even as depth.

That being said, there is plenty of room in the NFL for a specialist as talented as Killebrew. Don Carey made a 10-year career out of it, and that appears to be the path Killebrew is taking.

For the Lions, Killebrew should be an easy re-signing, just to ensure their talented special teams' corps from last year remains somewhat intact through a regime change. He also brings leadership value to the locker room, as he served as the team’s NFL Players Association representative. We know character will play a big part in this team’s identity going forward, and Killebrew has it in spades.

However, after five years in Detroit, no one would blame Killebrew if he desired to take his talents elsewhere in 2021.

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After winning their first NFC North title in 30 years, the Lions have unfinished business this offseason. Stay updated with Jeremy Reisman through Pride of Detroit Direct, our newsletter offering up exclusive analysis. Sign up with NFCNORTH30 to get 30% off after your free trial.