The Detroit Lions' most obvious position group with the biggest question marks entering training camp is the safeties. They appear to have three safeties they are comfortable with—Tracy Walker, Will Harris, and Dean Marlowe—but beyond that, the final reserve spots are up for grabs.
This is the 10th and final installment in a series of articles at Pride of Detroit where we will examine the snap counts for the Lions’ rookies during the 2020 season. You can read the previous seven articles in this series here: Jeff Okudah, D’Andre Swift, Julian Okwara, Jonah Jackson, Logan Stenberg, Quintez Cephus, John Penisini, Jashon Cornell, and Hunter Bryant.
Bobby Price, S: Undrafted Free Agent
Coming out of Norfolk State, Bobby Price flew under the radar a bit and the Lions were able to land him for just $10,000 in guaranteed money.
Throughout training camp, it was clear he needed further polishing, but was an uber-athletic ball of clay that fit former coach Matt Patricia’s preferences to a tee.
Overall, expectations were fairly low for Price heading into the season but with his size (6-foot-3, 216 pounds, and 33.25” arm length) and athletic profile (9.96 RAS), it was an almost certainty that he would land on the practice squad to be further developed.
Price’s 2020 snap counts
As anticipated Price was a fixture on the practice for most of the season, but after Patricia and former GM Bob Quinn were fired, the new management team decided to give Price a shot.
In Week 13, Price was a protected practice squad member (a new rule in 2020 due to COVID-19 that prevented teams from poaching players) and found himself elevated to the active roster (another adjustment to the rules because of COVID-19). He would record one tackle—the only he made in the 2020 season—and he spent time playing on four special teams units: Kick return, kick coverage, punt return, and punt coverage as a gunner.
In Week 14, Price was once again protected and promoted to the active roster but he failed to show up on the stat sheet. Because this was his second practice squad elevation, he was no longer eligible for another elevation and would need to be signed to the active roster in order to see the field again.
For Week 15 and 16, Price remained on the practice squad and continued to be a protected player. In Week 17, with several injured players landing on injured reserve, Price was signed to the active roster but was inactive on game day.
Price enters the 2021 season where he left off in 2020, as an athlete who is still learning how to be an impactful player at the professional level. During OTAs and minicamp, Price often lined up with the third or fourth units, and it appears that if he is going to find the field it would be because of his special teams contributions.
Price is very much a practice squad candidate again, but unless he makes some leaps and bounds during training camp, it’s difficult to project much more at this time.
Jalen Elliott, S: Undrafted Free Agent
Jalen Elliott was a three-year starter and team captain at Notre Dame, and was invited to play at the Senior Bowl, where he was coached by Patricia and the Lions staff. At the NFL Combine, Elliott ran a very pedestrian 4.8 40-yard dash that all but eliminated his chances of being drafted, despite his agility and explosion score being very solid—he recorded a 10-foot-5 broad jump and a 6.87-second three-cone drill.
The Lions liked what they saw in him at the Senior Bowl and make him a priority to sign once he went undrafted, handing him a contract with $100,000 in guarantees—the most of any Lions UDFA in the 2020 cycle.
Elliott didn’t separate himself from the rest of the safeties at training camp and it was obvious he had little chance at making the 53-man roster. Like Price, he seemed like a lock for the practice squad, where he could take his time developing his game, but would only make it onto the active roster if he proved himself on special teams.
Elliott’s 2020 snap counts
Elliott never saw the active roster in 2020 and was apparently outplayed by Price on special teams, based on the late-season elevations/promotion.
As much as the former staff believed in Elliott, the fact that they never elevated or promoted him appeared to be a poor indicator of how he was developing. With a new coaching staff in place, Elliott’s chances of earning a role appeared to be slim, but he showed up ready to prove himself this spring.
Because Elliott never saw the active roster in 2020, he was eligible to participate in the Lions' rookie minicamp. By the time the media was allowed access to camp, Elliott was running with the starters and looked comfortable at free safety. When the team shifted to OTAs and mini-camp, Elliot found himself in the two-deep rotation as the primary backup to Tracy Walker—a spot that was held last year by special teams ace C.J. Moore, who was repping on the third team opposite Price.
Maybe Elliott was put with the second unit because he was afforded the opportunity to participate in rookie minicamp and therefore was familiar with the scheme. But it’s also very realistic he has either proven to be more comfortable in this scheme or was developing faster than previously anticipated.
Regardless of the reasoning, Elliott was the Lions’ fourth safety option in the spring and appears headed into camp as a realistic contender for the 53-man roster. That being said, things change quickly when the pads come on and Elliott will have to continue to develop his game to fend off his competition this fall.