Thu, 28 Jan 2021

2020 position breakdown: Linebackers

Detroit Lions
13 Jan 2021, 00:25 GMT+10

Tim Twentyman

The good: The Lions signed veteran Jamie Collins Sr. this offseason to add some versatility to the linebacker group, and he provided some of that as the unit's best playmaker. Collins led the Lions in tackles (101), he tied defensive end Romeo Okwara for the team lead with three forced fumbles, and he was second behind only Okwara (11) with six tackles for loss.

Detroit's linebackers forced eight fumbles in 2020 as a group: Collins (3), Jahlani Tavai (2), Jarrad Davis (2) and Reggie Ragland (1).

The bad: Detroit's struggles on defense in 2020 were well documented. Detroit ranked 32nd in points allowed, 32nd in yards allowed per game, 30th in passing and 28th against the run.

Detroit's linebackers only generated two sacks all season. The defense was also one of the worst tackling units in the league. Detroit's 128 missed tackles were fifth most this season, per Pro Football Reference.

Opponents rushed for at least four yards on 49.3 percent of their rushes, which ranked 30th. Detroit allowed 73 plays of 20-plus yards, which ranked 28th. The average 20-plus-yard plays allowed amongst the 14 playoff teams was 55.

Former head coach Matt Patricia liked big, physical linebackers for his scheme, who could hold up in the run and get off blocks. This linebacker group struggled in that regard, and lacked overall speed.

In the matchup game the NFL has become, where scoring was at an all-time high in 2020, Detroit's linebackers struggled playing in space. The new breed of running back in the NFL - Alvin Kamara, Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook, Aaron Jones and others - are just as effective as receivers. Detroit's linebackers lacked the speed to effectively cut off the edge at times, and the unit struggled playing in space in the passing game.

Key stat: Pro Football Focus graded Collins as the 39th best linebacker in the NFL this past season among players with at least 50 reps. He was the Lions' highest graded linebacker.

A Closer Look: Dan Campbell 2020 position breakdown: Wide receivers O'HARA: How Lions' 2020 draft class fared in first season

Free agents: The Lions declined the fifth-year option of Davis' rookie contract, which makes the four-year veteran an unrestricted free agent.

Davis lost his starting MIKE spot this year, but still played a role with 329 defensive snaps. He made some plays and showed some pass-rushing prowess, but coverage was still a bit of an issue as Davis allowed three receiving touchdowns in his coverage, per PFF stats. He did have a positive impact on special teams. It will be interesting to see what the market is for the former first-round pick.

Ragland is also an unrestricted free agent, as is core special teamer Jalen Reeves-Maybin, who has been one of the better special teams players in the league the last couple seasons. Will he be interested in re-signing here, or will Reeves-Maybin look to go somewhere he has an opportunity to play more on defense?

Draft: Penn State inside linebacker Micah Parsons is one of the highest graded prospects by Scouts Inc. heading into the draft. He recorded 109 tackles, 14.0 tackles for loss, 5.0 sacks and four forced fumbles in 13 games in 2019. He has a terrific blend of size and speed, and could be in play for the Lions at No. 7, if he's still on the board.

Missouri inside linebacker Nick Bolton, Notre Dame inside linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Tulsa outside linebacker Zaven Collins and Texas outside linebacker Joseph Ossai are others to watch at the position in the pre-draft process.

MVP: Collins was easily Detroit's most productive linebacker from a statistical standpoint. Detroit brought him in to be a playmaker, and he provided those plays with an interception, a sack, three forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and six defended passes to go along with those 101 tackles in 14 games played.

Quotable: "Everybody has to do their job. Everybody's paid for a reason, to do their job. At the end of the day, the players play the game, and we've got to do a better job, because coaches can only do so much," Ragland said before Detroit's Week 17 matchup with Minnesota.

"But, at the end of the day, we've got to take control, and say, 'Hey, man, we've got to do our job and do this.' But, man, we just didn't do it at times."

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