On offense, you typically want your quarterback and offensive linemen to play every single snap over the course of an NFL season. On defense, however, that is almost never the case, and for good reason.
The last time a Detroit Lions defender played 100 percent of defensive snaps was in 2016, with safety Glover Quin racking up a total of 1027 snaps. That year featured two other players in the 90 percent range, with Tahir Whitehead logging 933 snaps and Nevin Lawson logging 924. A high snap count isn’t indicative of a successful season. In the case of Whitehead and Lawson, it was more a case of availability instead of ability.
You need look no further than the Lions’ snap count leader in 2021. Will Harris was on the field for 1012 defensive snaps, and that wasn’t necessarily a good thing. Harris was already billed as a starting safety due to lackluster competition. Due to a slew of injuries at cornerback, Harris saw an uptick of snaps there as well—and to his credit, he performed better than he did at safety. On one hand, his high snap count meant he was often on the field to get exploited. On the other hand, it gave him plenty of chances to showcase his ability as a corner, where he has shown some promise.
Entering the 2022 season, there are a fair share of candidates that could lead the defense in snaps.
Today’s Question of the Day is:
Which player will record the most snaps on defense in 2022?
My answer: I think Amani Oruwariye will lead the Lions in defensive snaps.
The top billing of the defense is no doubt Aidan Hutchinson. As the second-overall pick and a Michigan product, there will no shortage of people eager to see him on the field. However, the Lions some solid depth along the defensive line, and it seems likely that a rotation will be implemented—the last time a Lions defensive lineman recorded over 80 percent of defensive snaps was Ndamukong Suh in 2014. That being said, three edge rushers recorded over 1,000 snaps in 2021 (Leonard Floyd, Sam Hubbard, and Harold Landry), so it isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
A linebacker could be in the mix for Detroit, as they have historically played a fair number of snaps—in 2018, Jarrad Davis led the defense in snaps. However, the Lions are lacking in linebacker talent. I would not be surprised if there is a rotation at linebacker as well, picking and choosing their players based on situation.
Safety is also a position that typically plays a lot of snaps. Tracy Walker and DeShon Elliott are both talented safeties, so either player could feasibly lead the defense if they can stay healthy. Yet unlike 2021, the Lions have some capable safety depth with Kerby Joseph and Ifeatu Melifonwu. Sprinkling in some Will Harris, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a rotation here either.
That’s a rotation at almost level of defense, but I think cornerback is the one spot where that might not happen. There’s no question that cornerback depth is extremely important, but it’s also a position that you cannot afford to rest your starters too often. Many quarterbacks are capable of exploiting a mismatch with a substitute corner, especially if said corner is being thrown into the fire.
I give the nod to Oruwariye over Jeff Okudah purely due to Okudah’s Achilles injury. Okudah is making plays in training camp and looks like he could start, but I would not be surprised if the Lions take it slow with him early on.
If it weren’t for a late season injury, Oruwariye likely would have led the defense in snaps played. Instead, he fell just shy of Harris, who played in all 17 games versus Oruwariye’s 14. Health is always a factor to consider, but I think Oruwariye will see the field the most in 2022.