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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Duron Harmon, Detroit Lions and Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee Titans (Photo by Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports)
Duron Harmon, Detroit Lions and Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee Titans (Photo by Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports) /


Blame it on the injuries, blame it on the coaching, or blame it on the lack of pressure up front. No matter how you look at it, the Lions’ secondary did little to help the team stop the bleeding in 2020.

Rookie cornerback Jeff Okudah, the third overall selection in the 2020 draft had a rough introduction to the NFL. He missed the season opener with an injury and had to deal with star Green Bay Packers receiver Davante Adams in his NFL debut a week later. He was constantly targeted by opposing offenses and typically looked like he has a long way to go to live up to his draft status.

He notched a pivotal interception in a win against the Arizona Cardinals, but that was essentially his lone highlight. His season was cut short after nine games due to core muscle surgery to solve an issue that clearly bothered him all year. He has a promising future but will need to make a big jump in year two to avoid questions about his viability as a number one cornerback.

The rest of the cornerback corps was largely a mess. Desmond Trufant was signed to a sizable free-agent deal to help replace the departed Darius Slay, but he struggled to shake the injury woes that bothered him in his final season with the Atlanta Falcons. He was unimpressive in the six games in which he appeared. Likewise for second-year man Amani Oruwariye, who was often thrust into the number-one cornerback role, one for which he isn’t necessarily suited.

Remember Justin Coleman? Yes, he still plays for the Lions. It’s not necessarily a bad thing when you don’t hear a defensive back’s name too often. But the Lions were hoping for more from their highly-paid nickelback than the one interception he has recorded in two years with the team. The Lions’ new regime will have to decide how highly they value his position; they can save almost $12 million dollars if they decide to part ways with him this offseason.

Darryl Roberts and Mike Ford were thrust into action much more than would have been ideal, but the Lions had little choice due to the incessant injuries problems within the unit. Roberts played over 40% of the Lions’ defensive snaps, too much for a fifth corner. Ford struggled when bumped up from his usual special teams role.

Things weren’t much better at safety. Duron Harmon got off to a strong start, but his play slipped as a lost season dragged on. Starting all 16 games, he seemed a little worn out towards the latter part of the year. He played in 98% of Detroit’s defensive snaps after never exceeding 66% in any previous season.

Tracy Walker’s season began ominously when he was not named as a starter to open the year, benched in favor of Will Harris. Walker did not start until Week 3 and never seemed to get into a rhythm. He was a step behind on a handful of scoring plays, particularly in the red zone.

Harris did little to justify his early-season starting status. He hasn’t shown the instincts, speed, or physicality needed to be relied upon at the back end of the defense. He may have to fight for a roster spot next summer.

Grade: D