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2021 Detroit Lions roster preview: It’s Da’Shawn Hand’s last chance in Detroit

If Hand can stay healthy, there’ a role for him in Detroit... but that’s a big if.

NFL: Detroit Lions at San Francisco 49ers Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve noted several times that the Detroit Lions have accumulated a lot of players this offseason who are entering the 2021 season with a chip on their shoulder. But the Lions also have a couple of players they have retained that may also have that similar motivation to prove they still belong in this league.

Enter: Da’Shawn Hand.

The Lions’ 2018 fourth-round pick splashed onto the scene with an extremely promising rookie season, giving many the impression that the Lions had found a steal in Day 3 of the draft. Unfortunately, injuries have since derailed Hand’s career, and now he enters the final year of his rookie deal uncertain about his future in Detroit—and maybe football itself.

But with a change in direction for the franchise and the defense, will Hand stick around with the Lions? Let’s take a closer look as our 2021 Detroit Lions roster preview continues.

Previous roster previews:

Da’Shawn Hand

Expectations heading into 2020

Hand suffered a serious elbow injury during the 2019 training camp, and it cost him nearly all of his sophomore season in Detroit. When he finally returned from the injury, he only lasted two weeks before an ankle injury cost him the rest of the season.

Needless to say, fans were hopeful that a healthy offseason—plus the addition of Danny Shelton—would lead to Hand recapturing some of his rookie season magic in 2020. The opportunity was there for the taking, as A’Shawn Robinson and Mike Daniels left in free agency, but there were already growing concerns about injuries. At that point in his career, he had already missed 16 games in two years.

In our roster review from last year, I called 2020 a “crucial year” for Hand, noting that it was important for him to shed the injury-prone label and be the player we saw back in 2018.

Actual role in 2020

2020 stats: 10 games (1 start): 19 tackles, 0 sacks, 0 QB hits, 1 forced fumble
PFF grade: 65.8 (62nd out of 139 qualifying DTs)

Needless to say, Hand did little to shed the growing doubts about his durability. He entered the season battling a groin injury from training camp, and while he played for the first nine games of the season, he ended up missing six of the final seven games with groin and ankle injuries.

He graded out well with PFF, showing a significant improvement in his run defense. However, Hand lacked the game-changing plays that drew so much positive attention in his rookie season. PFF credited him with just seven total pressures, and he did not tally a single quarterback hit for the year.

Outlook for 2021

Contract status: Signed through 2021

Ever since his rookie season, Hand has simply struggled to stay on the field. Over the last two seasons, he’s played in 13 games—started just three—and missed 19 games. In the final year of his rookie deal, this is undoubtedly his last chance to catch on with the Detroit Lions.

And while he was drafted by a different general manager with a different defensive scheme in mind, Hand could actually fit what the Lions are trying to do under new defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn. His versatility gives him plenty of options to see the field, and his ability to pass rush (3.0 sacks, 79.5 PFF pass rush grade his rookie season) will be valued in a system that is all about disruption up front.

“When I flipped on the tape, and when he’s healthy, he’s something,” new defensive line coach Todd Wash sang Hand’s praises earlier this offseason. “I think he’s something teams are going to have to deal with. That’s my job, is to get him to be able to stay healthy, get him prepared physically and athletically. He has a chance to be a special player in this league. We just got to keep him healthy. And we’re going to do everything we can to get him on the field as much as we can.”

However, the Lions invested in the defensive tackle position this offseason, both for the present and the future. They traded for Michael Brockers and retained Nick Williams, then turned around and selected Levi Onwuzurike and Alim McNeill on Day 2 of the NFL Draft. Hand will specifically contend with Brockers, Williams, and Onwuzurike for playing time. Assuming he makes the team, his role could range from starting to the fourth option in the rotation—nothing is guaranteed for the 25-year-old defender. He’ll have to prove it in camp, then prove it in the regular season to keep his NFL career alive.