Detroit’s defense ranked dead last (32nd) in the National Football League last season (pro-football-reference.com) and that had much to do with the play of the secondary – – mainly the safeties.
Collectively, Detroit’s safeties were hesitant and tentative all season long. Those two words – – hesitant and tentative – – are like the kiss of death in the NFL when it comes to safeties.
Last September, I wrote for Sports Illustrated Detroit Lions that Tracy Walker and Will Harris were not the answer.
How did that turn out?
Exactly as I had written. Detroit’s safeties helped to produce the worst defense in the league. What about their secondary? How was their secondary specifically ranked?
Also dead last – – according to pff.com.
There were all sorts of changes in Detroit this past off-season; a new general manager, a new coaching staff, a new quarterback and all sorts of new players as the new regime tries to make this team their own.
However – – guess what?
Will Harris and Tracy Walker are still listed as the starters on their depth chart (espn.com). They both were there last year and they are both back this year.
In today’s pass-happy offensive driven game – – how should anyone expect that to turn out for the Lions?
Probably not too good.
Detroit made all these changes, but they neglected one of the most important changes that needed to be made.
Detroit instead selected a left tackle in the first round, Penei Sewell. They moved Sewell to right tackle, before moving him back to left tackle after starting left tackle Taylor Decker got injured recently. Decker signed a $60 million dollar five-year extension at the beginning of last season.
Granted, there were not any safeties rated that highly to be worth a pick at No. 7, but guess how many safeties Detroit drafted in all seven rounds?
If you guessed zero – – you are correct.
Instead, Detroit went and signed Buffalo reserve safety Dean Marlowe to a one-year deal. I gave Marlowe a (C) grade also for SI. He was average looking at best and more of a back-up than anything.
C.J. Moore, the other back-up safety listed on Detroit’s secondary is even less of a factor logging only four snaps all last season (pro-football-reference.com).
Thankfully, at least safety Duron Harmon is gone – – the safety who also spent time playing last season for Detroit. I gave Harmon an F+ for a grade in my scouting report for SI. He was dreadful.
Last Sunday when the Lions played the 49ers, I went back and watched the play of these two safeties Walker and Harris.
How did they look?
Walker and Harris looked like a couple of chickens with their heads cut off.
Walker and Harris were not aggressive against the run – – only getting involved inconsistently once the play reached their level downfield. The tackling effort of Harris on that Elijah Mitchell touchdown run was downright embarrassing as he slipped off Mitchell and fell to the ground. Walker did not do much better on the play as he was blocked out by a wide receiver.
Harris later slid off receiver Deebo Samuel. Harris also picked up a 15-yard face-mask personal foul on the play. Then Harris slid off Mitchell again.
Harris danced around the pile too often.
49ers’ running back Jamycal Hasty ran up the gut into the end zone and there was Walker and Harris really not trying to make the tackle.
In the third quarter, 49ers’ tight end George Kittle gave Walker a stiff arm that sent him flying. Harris reluctantly came to the rescue after a few more yards were gained, otherwise Kittle would still be running.
A short time later, 49ers’ Samuel scored on a 79-yard touchdown pass and all an unblocked Harris could manage to do is struggle to change direction, and ended up basically running with Samuel all the way to the end zone.
In the 4th quarter, Harris got pushed around and kept out of another Kittle reception.
Translation = outside of the one uncontested sack Walker had, watching these two play football was like watching Detroit play defense with nine men on the field.
Walker and Harris are two of the least aggressive safeties I have ever seen in my 40 years of watching the game.
How new team general manager, Brad Holmes could watch the film of last year’s squad and not address the position of safety is beyond me.
Daniel Kelly is a former NFL scout with the New York Jets. He was hired on the regime which featured Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick, Scott Pioli, Mike Tannenbaum, and Dick Haley. He currently writes for Sports Illustrated Detroit Lions and he is a contributing evaluator for Draft Diamonds. For more information about him visit his website at whateverittakesbook.com. He can be followed on Twitter @danielkellybook and his Facebook page is WHATEVER IT TAKES NFL TALK.