Do the Lions have an answer at middle linebacker?
Jarrad Davis is in many ways a coach’s dream. He is an outstanding athlete, has a tremendous attitude, has leadership qualities and outworks almost everyone else on the team. Davis’ shortcomings aren’t from a lack of effort. Yet somehow it just hasn’t clicked for him in Matt Patricia’s defense.
Patricia loves Davis as any coach would, but at some point, a good coach won’t let those feelings get in the way of making any moves necessary to improve their team. This is where it is very important for Patricia to be willing to consider other possibilities that could help his defense rise up from the dead.
So that leaves two possibilities; the first is that perhaps Patricia will put Collins in the middle and move Davis to the outside since he has been an asset as a pass-rusher when utilized as such. The second option is that Davis will battle for the job in the middle with someone else.
The first option seems to have the best chance to succeed, but if the second option is what Patricia is considering, then that means the contenders will be Jahlani Tavai and Reggie Ragland.
We all saw what Tavai accomplished as a rookie last season and I would expect that when the Lions line up in a 3-4 alignment, which happens frequently, that Tavai will be holding down one of the two inside positions at least.
But could he supplant Davis when the defense lines up in a 4-3? Possibly, but he struggles in pass coverage just like Davis.
Ragland was a well-respected thumper from Alabama when he was selected by the Buffalo Bills in the second round of the 2016 NFL draft. After missing his rookie campaign to injury he was shipped off to Kansas City.
Unfortunately, Ragland was never able to take command of the middle for the Chiefs. He was basically a rotational piece that did get playing time and contributed, but never established himself as many NFL insiders thought he would. Ragland also has the same weakness as Davis and Tavai in pass coverage.
So even if Tavai and Ragland beat out Davis, will it be an upgrade? Certainly not in pass coverage, even considering that Patricia likes to often use an extra safety instead of an extra linebacker in many of his defensive scheme’s.
But what about against the run? Davis has the speed and athleticism to play sideline to sideline, but in his eagerness to make a play he sometimes misses tackles. Tavai is a solid tackler that just needs to continue to get experience to be a plus defender against the run. Ragland is also reliable against the run where he made his greatest contributions for Kansas City.
Yet even if Ragland and Tavai are more consistent against the run, neither has proven themselves to be a three-down player due to their weakness in coverage.
While the Lions still have more work to do on the defensive line and secondary, the linebacker corp continues to be a big concern. The inconsistent play that has plagued this unit since Matt Patricia’s arrival has been a big factor in this team’s defensive failures.
Unless Matt Patricia finds a solution that will fix this issue instead of just moving sideways and hoping that will get the job done, then the linebackers who are expected to be the play-makers in this defense will continue to falter and so will the Lions.