The Detroit Lions are facing important decisions regarding their safety position this offseason. As of this moment, only Will Harris and Brady Brees are under contract for the 2022 season. And while players like Bobby Price and C.J. Moore could be easy re-signings given their current contract statuses (exclusive rights free agent and restricted free agent, respectively), that would leave the position still lacking a quality starter or two.
Worse yet, safety is one of the most important positions on this defense, as defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant explained this week at the Senior Bowl.
“Because of the way we play defensively, we really ask our safeties to do a lot of things not only in the run fits and pass coverage, blitzing, playing in the middle of the field, our half-field safety,” Pleasant said. “So you need some versatility, you got to have some really really good leadership qualities, and you got to have some ball production.”
One of those options is re-signing 27-year-old Tracy Walker, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent next month. Walker certainly has that versatility and he’s grown into bigger leadership role in Detroit’s young secondary, but his ball skills haven’t yet shown up on Sundays. Walker has just three interceptions in four seasons and just 10 pass breakups in the past two years.
Pleasant admitted Walker had a good year, but also left them wanting more.
“Both him and I believe for as good as this year was, there is vast room for improvement,” Pleasant said. “And collectively, if we get a chance to work again in the future, you guys can see the same progression that maybe we’ve seen over the last year.”
The free agent market also provides some very plausible options. Saints safety Marcus Williams leads this year’s cream of the free agency crop and has valuable experience under defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn already. Tyrann Mathieu, Marcus Maye and even Quandre Diggs fill out a decent market this March.
The Lions will also have plenty of options in the upcoming NFL Draft. Notre Dame’s Kyle Hamilton is considered one of the best prospects in this year’s class. While he was not at the Senior Bowl this week—he’s entering the draft as a junior—Hamilton has many of those traits Pleasant is looking for. He was a team captain last year, he’s got ball skills (eight interceptions, 24 passes defended in three easons), and he isn’t afraid to get his nose dirty in the run game.
As for the players at the Senior Bowl this week, the Lions were a little shorthanded at the position on their American Team. That said, Texas A&M’s Leon O’Neal Jr. was named top safety on the team during Senior Bowl practices. O’Neal is a physical force who fits more of the strong safety role, but if he get coached up by the Lions’ staff, he could develop a more well-rounded game. The National Team has some more viable early-round options in Baylor’s Jalen Pitre, who made several “standout” lists this week, and Illinois’ Kerby Joseph could shoot up boards after a breakout 2021 season. It’s worth noting that while players on the National team are not coached by the Lions on the field during the week, they do have a chance to meet with them in the classroom when the two teams swap rosters for a day.