Lions season-ending report cards: Defense, special teams, coaching

Detroit Lions defense (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Detroit Lions defense (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /
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Jamie Collins, Detroit Lions (Photo by Douglas DeFelice/USA TODAY Sports)
Jamie Collins, Detroit Lions (Photo by Douglas DeFelice/USA TODAY Sports) /


Be forewarned, Lions fans. There will not be a lot of complimentary comments when it comes to assessing this unit. The Lions’ linebackers were just plain bad in 2020, and they accounted for a lot of the shortcomings that led to Detroit breaking several dubious defensive records.

The best linebackers in the NFL have speed, are sure tacklers, and can hold their own in pass coverage. The former Lions administration just didn’t take those traits into consideration when constructing this unit, and they paid for it in 2020 with a slow, unathletic, and uninstinctive collection of players, most of whom shouldn’t be back in 2021.

Jarrad Davis, the former first-round draft selection, had his role reduced again this year after it became clear in 2019 that he just wasn’t a good fit in the defensive scheme. He played over 50% of the defensive snaps in a game just three times.

With a downsized workload, he still struggled to make plays, recording just 0.5 sacks and one tackle for loss. He did himself no favors entering free agency and seems likely to leave this offseason, ranking as one of the Lions’ biggest draft misses over the last decade.

Jahlani Tavai was even more disappointing. The 10-game starter was regularly on the wrong end of some of the opposition’s most explosive plays of the season, and he was constantly at the mercy of running backs and receivers when trying to tackle them in open space. With little depth behind him, the Lions were forced to trot him out weekly, but he took a big step back in year two.

Christian Jones and Reggie Ragland were also low-wattage rotational players in this unit. They too struggled to close gaps on faster, more elusive players, and combined for just 1.0 sack, four quarterback hits, and six tackles for loss.

Jamie Collins was brought in as an expensive free agent to play a variety of roles at the second level. Also, his familiarity with the Lions’ scheme thanks to his time with Patricia when both were with the New England Patriots seemed beneficial. Like everyone else in this group, it all fell way short.

His season got off to a forehead-smacking start after he was disqualified from a Week 1 loss to the Chicago Bears after inadvertently making contact with an official. Collins was easily the most productive member of this group, but that isn’t saying much. He may be the only returning member of a unit that needs a complete renovation.

Grade: F