In what will be an ongoing series, I will be taking a look at each position on the Detroit Lions roster and examine where things stand, who has the best shot at making the final 53-man roster, and whether or not they improved in this area. Next up, linebacker.
The linebacker position has never been more talented across the board for the Detroit Lions than it is right now, starting with their quarterback on defense, Stephen Tulloch.
Tulloch was overshadowed by DeAndre Levy’s breakout year, but his consistent play should not be overlooked.
Tulloch ended the year 8th in combined tackles with 135, which was the second most in his career. Pro Football Focus also charted him as the 6th most efficient tackler among all inside linebackers, missing just 9 tackles last year (1 per 15.7 attempted tackles)
He will be a lock as a starter at the middle linebacker position, and is under contract until 2017.
Chances at making final roster: 100% (starting middle linebacker)
It’s a good thing that I am not a part of the Lions front office, because I was a pretty strong advocate for keeping Justin Durant over DeAndre Levy last offseason. I believed Durant’s ability to stop the run was more important, and Levy was too inconsistent and struggled to stay healthy all year.
What I didn’t consider is how much of a game changer Levy can be when he’s on top of his game. He led all linebackers in interceptions with six last year and was tied for second among all defensive players. Pair that with his 21 pass deflections, good for seventh in the NFL, and you might confuse him for a defensive back.
With the new defensive scheme change under defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, it’s unlikely that Levy will see too much of a change in his responsibilities. He’ll still be asked to make plays in the passing game as the premier weakside linebacker.
Mark my words, Levy will be a household name around the NFL by the end of the season, and he will not get snubbed from the Pro Bowl for a second time.
Chances of making final roster: 100% (starting weakside linebacker)
Kyle Van Noy
Kyle Van Noy may be the player I’m most excited to see during training camp. I’ve become a big fan of his game over the past several months, so much so that I even wrote a 2000 word piece on him leading up to the draft.
Van Noy is a jack-of-all-trades type of player that will fit the strongside linebacker mold perfectly under Austin’s defense. His football instincts are unprecedented and he has a knack for always being around the ball and making plays.
I’d expect KVN to win the starting strongside linebacker role fairly easily, assuming he stays healthy throughout training camp.
Chances of making final roster: 100% (starting strongside linebacker)
No one benefits from the Lions defensive scheme change more than Tahir Whitehead. He’s an athletic linebacker with great speed, but was more of a blitzer than a pass-rusher for Temple’s 3-4 defense.
It remains to be seen how often we’ll see the Lions use their 3-4 sub-packages, but Whitehead could get some work in as a 4-3 outside linebacker, 3-4 OLB, and maybe even a 3-4 ILB.
As reported by Kyle Meinke at Mlive.com, Whitehead received some reps at middle linebacker with Stephen Tulloch excused from practice.
Chances of making final roster: 85% (backup SAM linebacker, ability to play multiple positions)
Last year, Palmer was slotted as the starting left outside linebacker, but only managed to see the field for about 25% of Detroit’s defensive snaps last year due to the amount of nickel packages they used.
The Lions will be showcasing a more traditional-styled defense with three or more linebackers on the field for a majority of the time.
Palmer will have a shot at playing strongside linebacker and will need to beat out Kyle Van Noy to win starting duties.
Chances of making final roster: 80% (insurance)
Next Page: Travis Lewis, Cory Greenwood, Julian Stanford, Brandon Hepburn, Justin Jackson