6. Louis Delmas
Make or break year for Delmas. He’s got all of the raw talent the world could offer him, but he’s hasn’t made it all come together yet. We jumped up and down when the Lions snatched him in the second round of the 2009 NFL Draft because we expected, or at least I expected, John Lynch status. Now, he can still do it which is why I think he’s the sixth most important piece to the Detroit Lions. Now, we all know he can blow up a running back and knock a receiver’s head off, but sometimes he misjudges routes and over-runs his tackles. Delmas is a natural leader and his teammates respect him, and with a paltry group of cornerbacks, he is going to be counted on to step his coverage game up. I see a tremendous year for number 26.
5. Stephen Tulloch
Tulloch will be entering his 7th year as a pro in 2012 and is going to have another impactful year sitting in the middle of the defense. Now that he’s under contract for five years, Tulloch becomes a much easier sell for a top leadership roll in this defense. You want to listen to guys who have shown their committment to the team moreso than you would listen to a freelancing linebacker. I love his ball-hawking ability. He’s always near where the play is happening and is undoubtedly one of the best tackling linebackers the Lions have had in some time. 111 tackles in 2011 was down from his 160 in 2010 with the Titans, but I would bet he bounces back this year with 125+.
4. Kyle Vanden Bosch
I’m not expecting KVB to fall off this year despite his age. He grabs the four spot largely because of the Lions’ defensive composition, which is full of young players. Vanden Bosch is the quintessential lineman Jim Schwartz wants guys like Suh, Fairley and Willie Young to develop into: a non-stop, all-out, cut-throat, quarterback-mauling, red-eyed monster. Along with Tulloch, the Lions defense has a strong core leadership from war-hardened veterans, and you can be sure that Vanden Bosch will be a part of turning around some of the guys who have had off-the-field issues this summer. I have a small fear that the era of guys with work ethics like KVB may be coming to a close, but he isn’t going down this year.