Detroit Lions Review and Offseason Plan: Safeties


Photo Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Today we take a look at how the Detroit Lions safeties performed during the 2012 season with a little help from the fine folks at Pro Football Focus.

The radar chart below shows the Pro Football Focus grades for each Lions safety and compares them to the best, worst and league average ratings. PFF grades each player on each play to produce a massively useful tool for evaluating the totality of a player’s season compared to others at his position.

2012 Season Review
Louis Delmas – In just a couple seasons, Louis Delmas has gone from one of the most popular Lions to one of the most polarizing. There is what he could be or should be, but then there is what he was in 2012. That was a below average safety that couldn’t stay on the field because of injuries. Delmas deserves credit for trying to gut through knee pain to give his team what he could, but he was mediocre against the run (+.2 according to PFF) and a liability in pass coverage (-1.5). It would be easy to chalk the poor performance up to injury, and that is probably true, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Lions didn’t get the contribution they needed from Delmas.

Don Carey – Who would have bet that Don Carey would end the season as the Lions’ best safety? In fact, his +3.4 rating in pass coverage was the team’s best. It’s too early to tell if the Lions have stumbled into something here, but even if he only turns out to be an average safety, the Lions have found an improvement.

Ricardo Silva – The ratings aren’t great but Silva was put in a tough spot. He was a practice squad guy that suddenly found himself playing quite a bit. He struggled in coverage (-2.5) and in run support (-1.7). The good news is that his ratings against the run improved after facing Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch in his first two starts. Silva likely hasn’t reached his full potential but may still ultimately be a special teams guy.

Erik Coleman – A negative overall rating (-4.8) thanks to negative grades against the run (-2.4) and pass (-2.4) back up the Lions’ decision to part ways with Coleman during the season in favor of getting a look at other options that could help the team in the future.

The Others – Amari Spievey and John Wendling did not play a large enough percentage of the team’s defensive snaps to get ranked league-wide. While Wendling’s -3.6 overall rating in limited action proves his presence in a defensive backfield means something went terribly wrong, Spievey’s +2.0 is an indicator of improvement after a brutal 2011 season.

Offseason Plan
It’s time to put the idealized version of Louis Delmas to rest and start viewing him through the lens of reality. He is now four years into his NFL career and has yet to get through a season without missing time due to injury. He was viewed as an exciting player on the rise two years ago but since then he’s battled more injuries and finished each season with a negative overall rating from PFF. The Lions have already stated they don’t intend to use the franchise tag this offseason so it looks like it is long-term deal or bust with Delmas. The Lions shouldn’t simply let him walk but they can’t afford to make a large investment (beyond just the financial) in Delmas. Even if Delmas returns, the Lions would be foolish to not also add talent to the safety depth chart because Delmas has not proven to be a player they can count on over the course of a season.

The good news is the Lions have plenty of options for addressing their needs at safety. They wasted no time getting a visit set up with George Wilson after he was cut by the Bills. He is 31 but still a very productive player and could immediately start for the Lions. The Lions are likely to be able to find another starting-caliber safety in the draft. The current CBS Sports big board ranks eight safeties in the top 100. Failing to draft at least one safety this year increases the likelihood of the current safety situation repeating itself in the future no matter what other moves the team makes this offseason.

Ricardo Silva is an exclusive rights free agent so he can be retained for little cost. There is no reason to not bring him to training camp although he will have an uphill battle for earning a roster spot if the Lions do what they need to do to address the position. Amari Spievey is a restricted free agent and what the Lions do with him should be based on medical info based on his history of concussions. If is trending towards Jahvid Best stauts the Lions can move on. If there is a reasonable expectation that he can contribute, keeping Spievey would be a prudent depth move. John Wendling has one year remaining on his contract but his role is on special teams. Everything the Lions do at safety this offseason should be to make sure Wendling never has to play another defensive snap. Erik Coleman was released in December and will not return.

Previously: Wide Receivers, Offensive Tackles, Guards, Center, Tight Ends, Quarterback, Running Backs, Outside Linebackers, Inside Linebacker

*Those that have been around the Detroit Lions blogosphere for a while may recognize the approach presented as similar to Ty Schalter’s ‘Old Mother Hubbard’ series on The Lions in Winter. Don’t worry, he’s cool with what I’m doing here and has assured me that he’ll be back with Old Mother Hubbard later in the offseason.