We’ve reached the point in the offseason in which just about every outlet is posting lists to fill the newsless NFL void. Top-10 lists are all over the place for people to debate because there’s really nothing else to talk about right now.
A popular list circulating this year is a list of the most underrated players for each NFL team. In a way, it’s a way of apologizing for the top-10 lists. This player wasn’t good enough for our top-10 lists, but he still deserves a shoutout.
ESPN—with an assist from Football Outsiders—made their list last week. This week, it was the Wire sites that listed the most underrated player on each team.
When it came to the Detroit Lions, the two publications offered very different answers. Interestingly enough, despite a poor rookie season, ESPN listed linebacker Derrick Barnes as Detroit’s most underrated player. Lions Wire’s Jeff Risdon went with Taylor Decker, instead.
Let’s open this up for further discussion. Today’s Question of the Day is:
Who is the Detroit Lions’ most underrated player?
My answer: My first reaction to the question when ESPN posed it last week was the same as Risdon’s answer: Taylor Decker. I think Decker is arguable a top-10 left tackle in this league, and part of the belief is backed by PFF. In each of the past two seasons, Decker has posted a top-10 pass blocking grade among all offensive tackles.
2021: 84.0 pass blocking grade (6th)
2020: 85.8 (t-fourth)
But in an effort to offer a different answer, I feel like Tracy Walker deserves to be in the conversation. Walker is likely not well-known outside of Detroit, and while I don’t think he’s in the conversation of a top-10 safety in this league, he’s shown enough flashes to believe he can be a very good starter if he can just show a little more consistency.
Walker has clearly found a coaching staff who not only believes in him (as evidenced by his extension and Dan Campbell calling him “one of the core”) but has made him a better player. It’s entirely possible he reaches that full potential under defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn and defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant—two of the hottest defensive coaches in football right now.
Last season was an up-and-down year for Walker. Through the first 10 weeks of the season, he was excellent, earning a PFF grade of 74.5 (12th) while allowing a total of three receptions. However, as the pieces around Walker changed due to injury, his play dropped. From Week 11 until the end of the season, Walker graded out at just 47.2 (76th), allowing six catches in coverage.
On one hand, it’s easy to excuse Walker’s drop in efficiency, given his supporting cast was ever-changing, and secondary chemistry is extremely important for a safety. On the other hand, this speaks to some of the inconsistency we’ve seen from Walker for most of his career.
Still, there is much more good than bad with Walker. And if he can take the next step and produce some turnovers in 2022, the Lions will have looked smart in handing him an extension.