The Detroit Lions want to further develop first round rookie linebacker Jarrad Davis, but not at the expense of someone they think is playing better.
One of the defensive bright spots for the Detroit Lions last season was the play of veteran middle linebacker Tahir Whitehead. The then fifth-year defender recorded a career-high 132 total tackles in15 games. Whitehead had the third most solo tackles in the NFL with 99.
Although Whitehead was a tackling machine last year, he struggled in pass coverage and seemed better suited for the weakside position. So no one blinked an eye when the Lions choose to used their first round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft to select Florida middle linebacker Jarrad Davis 21st overall.
Davis was instantly slotted as Detroit’s starter at middle linebacker, while Whitehead was shifted outside. And so far this season, Davis hasn’t disappointed. The 23-year old currently leads all rookies with a combined 56 tackles through just nine games.
But for the past of couple weeks, the Lions coaching staff has opted to sit the developing Davis during dime packages in favor of Whitehead. Why? According to defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, Davis has become a liability in coverage. And at this time, Tahir is simply playing better.
"“At this point in the season, we want [Davis] to develop, but we can’t have him develop at the chance that we’re sitting a guy that can probably do that position better at this particular time,” Austin told the Detroit Free Press."
Detroit’s defensive coach continued to explain Davis will keep working to improve his coverage skills in practice. But as of right now, they believe Whitehead gives them a better chance to be successful in that area.
Despite the position switch, Whitehead continues to impress. He’s racked up a team-leading 74 total tackles through 11 games so far, and has seen the third most defensive snaps (615) of any Lions’ player. The fact he is on the field nearly 84% of the time the defense is playing shows just how much Austin and the Lions’ coaching staff trust him.
Anytime you decide to scale back the role of the team’s first round selection, it can cause some public backlash. But this particular change likely has more to do with the improving play of veteran Tahir Whitehead than being a negative sign in the development of Jarrad Davis.