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2023 Lions free agent profile: Should the Lions re-sign Chris Board?

Chris Board is a terrific special teamer but likely only a reserve linebacker. Is that enough for the Lions to re-sign him?

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions David Reginek-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Lions have 28 players from their 2022 roster set to become free agents in 2023 (18 unrestricted, 10 restricted), and we are covering them all throughout the month of February.

If you missed any of the previous articles, you can check them out here: RB Jamaal Williams, IOL Evan Brown, OL Dan Skipper, NT Isaiah Buggs, EDGE John Cominsky, EDGE Austin Bryant, LB Alex Anzalone, LB Josh Woods, CB Will Harris, CB Mike Hughes, CB Amari Oruwariye, SAF DeShon Elliott, SAF C.J. Moore, and K Michael Badgley

Next up:

Chris Board

Expectations heading into 2022

The Lions entered the 2022 offseason with only Derrick Barnes (fresh off his rookie year) under contract, but just ahead of the NFL’s tampering free agency period, Alex Anzalone and Shaun Dion Hamilton were re-signed. With Anzalone likely in line for a starting role and Barnes looking like he still needed some polish, the Lions were expected to add competition in free agency.

After four years in Baltimore, Board was on the lookout for an opportunity to start and signed with Detroit (one year, $2 million deal) early in the second wave of free agency. Board was a special teams demon with the Ravens but was never able to seize a starting role on defense. The Lions were willing to give him that chance to win a starting job.

Actual role in 2022

Defense
17 games (0 starts): 160 snaps (14.1%)
Stats: 14 tackles, 5 pressures, 1 QB hit, 1 fumble recovery, 1 pass deflection
PFF grade: 64.4 (48 of 105 linebackers with at least 150 snaps on defense)

In spring camp, Anzalone did indeed start at the MIKE, while Board and Barnes rotated through starting WILL reps. But come fall, rookie Malcolm Rodriguez exploded onto the scene, quickly ascended past Board and Barnes, and into a starting role.

The Lions weren’t ready to give up on Board and his chances to start, and over the first three weeks of the season, he saw game snaps of 29, 16, and 23 on defense. Unfortunately, after three games, the Lions had seen enough and they relegated Board to an LB4 role.

As a depth player, Board played mostly situational, match-up defense as a cover linebacker and never saw more than 15 snaps in any one game the rest of the way. In fact, of his 104 snaps over the final 14 games, 82 were in coverage compared to just 22 in run defense/pass rush situations.

Special teams
17 games (17 starts): 359 snaps (79.6%) — leading the Lions in special teams snaps
Stats: 7 tackles
PFF grade: 78.1 (28 of 102 players with at least 300 special teams snaps)
Note: This is the fourth year in a row that Board had a special teams grade over 78.

When Board signed with Detroit, the Ravens community gushed over his special teams contributions. Here’s an example, from when Mike Payton talked to Baltimore Beatdown’s managing editor Kyle Barber:

“Board has been an excellent special teams player for the past few seasons. According to recently retired special teamer and defensive back Anthony Levine Sr., he’s been ‘by far the best special teams player in the league.’ He is an incredibly hard worker and well respected among his teammates and coaches alike.”

Board’s special teams projections lined up. A four-phase specialist, Board was a key contributor to both punting and kicking units, and helped the Lions to a top-ranked special teams unit in 2022. His 356 special teams snaps led the Lions, with Anthony Pittman and Josh Woods being the only other Detroit player to crack the 300 snap barrier.

Board wasn’t quite as impactful in the stat column with Detroit as he was in Baltimore, but that is likely because the Lions also featured several other solid special teams players, such as Woods (91.0 special teams grade from PFF), C.J. Moore (81.5), and Shane Zylstra (86.2), as well as rookies Rodriguez (91.0) and James Houston (82.6).

Outlook for 2023

Contract status: Unrestricted free agent

In hindsight, we probably all should‘ve anticipated Boards' role once he was signed because we were told almost exactly how his time in Detroit would likely play out. Let’s go back to Payton’s piece with Barber, where he gave us a very accurate projection:

“I don’t see him becoming a starting linebacker. I think he’s an adequate depth option and a brilliant special teams player, but he hasn’t been ‘the guy’ in his four seasons in Baltimore.

“In 2021, Board was given another opportunity to seize a starting role. He averaged 24.5 defensive snaps per game in the first four games of the season. In his final four games, Board’s average dropped to 14 defensive snaps per game. He just hasn’t made the leap.”

I mean, Barber pretty much nailed it.

Board started his time in Detroit with a high rep count and less than a month later he was reduced to a reserve role on defense. He may not have been the elite special teamer he was in Baltimore, but 300-snap count special teamers don’t grow on trees and he was very reliable in the third phase, something that has been consistent during his time in the NFL.

When I ranked the Lions unrestricted free agents at the beginning of the offseason, Board landed 12th on my list. That ranking lands in the bottom half of the Lions UFAs simply because I think it’s clear the type of player Board is in the NFL: A terrific special teams player who offers depth on defense but will probably not be a starter in the NFL. And to be frank, that’s just fine. There is a very clear role for players like Board in the league and he could certainly be a player the Lions want to return in a similar role.

Poll

What should the Lions do with Chris Board?

This poll is closed

  • 9%
    Re-sign him to a multi-year deal
    (117 votes)
  • 52%
    Re-sign him to a 1-year contract worth $2M-$2.25M
    (623 votes)
  • 37%
    Let him test free agency
    (445 votes)
1185 votes total Vote Now

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