Lions Named Top Fit For 2 ‘Underrated’ Defensive Free Agents

Tony Jefferson

Getty Tony Jefferson celebrates a big play for the Ravens.

The Detroit Lions have plenty of needs even as they get set to tackle a training camp unlike any other in recent memory, and luckily for them there are still players on the market that fit in a big way.

Recently, Bleacher Report writer Kristopher Knox took a look at picking out the top underrated free agents heading toward training camp still looking for a home, plus their top fits across the NFL. Detroit surfaced a pair of times, with defensive players picking up the honors both times. According to Knox, safety Tony Jefferson and linebacker Mark Barron are great fits for the Lions.

When it came to Jefferson, Knox wrote that the former Baltimore Ravens defensive back could give the team an extra weapon their secondary could use.

“A former mainstay of the Arizona Cardinals and Baltimore Ravens secondaries, Jefferson has appeared in 98 games and has 66 starts. With Baltimore in 2018, he racked up 74 tackles, six passes defended and an interception.

The Lions, who ranked last in pass defense last season, could be an intriguing destination for Jefferson. Head coach Matt Patricia often used multiple safeties as defensive coordinator with the New England Patriots, and a trio of Jefferson, Duron Harmon and Tracy Walker would give him a lot of flexibility.”

In terms of Barron, Knox lamented the lack of depth at linebacker on the team and said the former Pittsburgh Steelers player could play a key role for the team at this point in time.

“He would also be a valuable asset for the Lions, who could use help at the second level while trying to improve their 32nd-ranked pass defense.

2017 first-round pick Jarrad Davis was supposed to be the sort of sideline-to-sideline defender that Barron has been throughout his career, but he has fallen short of expectations. Detroit declined Davis’ fifth-year option this offseason.”

In both cases, the Lions could benefit from these additions. Jefferson has put up 451 tackles, 4 interceptions and 8.5 sacks. He’s an active safety, and perhaps the only question is what type of a role he’d play on a defense that has plenty of depth at the position. Barron has 710 tackles, 12 sacks and 9 interceptions in his career as an active linebacker.

The Lions have money to spend, and could also look to add a defensive lineman to the mix. For now, many see a few other positions as the biggest need.

Lions Defense Said to Have Not Improved Into 2020

Recently, Bleacher Report also power ranked every team’s defense following the biggest moves of the offseason, and the Lions didn’t place highly whatsoever. Detroit’s defense was bad last season, but according to Martin Fenn, the improvements they have made have been minimal.

The Lions placed 29th on the list, with only 3 defenses in the league worse at this point.

Here’s a look at what Fenn wrote about why:

“The Lions made the best decision for their defense by staying at the No. 3 spot in the draft and selecting Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah, who was dominant during his tenure with the Buckeyes. According to Pro Football Focus, he allowed first downs on just 20 percent of all targets at the outside corner since 2018. He also dominated in press coverage, making him the perfect replacement for Darius Slay.

Detroit also signed former Atlanta Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant earlier in the offseason while acquiring ball-hawking safety Duron Harmon from the New England Patriots.

The problem is, the secondary figures to see a ton of action due to a relatively lackluster pass rush. The Lions cut edge-rusher Devon Kennard and defensive tackle Damon “Snacks” Harrison, but the only move they made to upgrade the line was signing former Pats defensive tackle Danny Shelton.

Shelton was a run-stuffing machine for New England last year, and perhaps the Lions are counting on the additions of linebackers Jamie Collins and Reggie Ragland to help against the run as well. Still, they don’t have much of a pass rush outside of Trey Flowers, which does not bode well for the overhauled secondary. Collins did have seven sacks last season, but he will be 31 in October, and the Lions might need him to be more of a cover backer.

Third-round draft pick Julian Okwara might be able to help set the edge, but the Lions ranked 29th in passing DVOA last year, and the relative shortage of pass-rushing threats will test Detroit’s secondary once again.”

Detroit has added plenty to the mix in both free agency and the draft but clearly not enough to move the needle as Fenn is concerned in terms of a turnaround. Obviously, the Lions need to prove such rankings lists wrong considering how important 2020 is for everyone on the team.

Lions Defense Upgraded This Offseason

Many others see the Lions having upgraded the unit in solid fashion. After a horrible pair of seasons under Matt Patricia, there’s already been some big changes on that side of the ball. How will that impact the team when all is said and done? The returns will be very positive according to a different piece.

In a piece breaking down some winners and losers of free agency, Pro Football Focus and writer Ben Linsey took a closer look at what the Lions have done, and found them to be a winner. Here’s a look at what he wrote on that:

“The spotlight is on Darius Slay, particularly after he publicly acknowledged last night that he wants out of Detroit, and as of Thursday morning, a deal has been put in place to send Slay to the Eagles. That is not ideal for the Lions. Despite the down year from a grading standpoint in 2019 (56.4 PFF grade), Slay remains one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL. During the five-year stretch from 2014 to 2018, he ranked eighth among qualifying cornerbacks in overall grade, and he routinely draws shadow assignments against the opposing team’s best wide receiver, making those results all-the-more impressive.

As all that trade speculation took place, the Lions went about improving their coverage to soften the blow of his inevitable loss. They signed former New England Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins, a player who has been outstanding in coverage and as a blitzer for New England over his career but struggled when traded to the Cleveland Browns. He’s an intriguing option for a Lions team that needed an injection of talent into their linebacking corps. The hope is that the transition to Matt Patricia’s defense is smoother than the one Collins made four seasons ago in Cleveland.

Detroit then addressed the secondary with two more moves, trading for Patriots safety Duron Harmon (shocker, I know) and signing former Atlanta Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant. Both players were drafted in 2013, and neither has recorded an overall grade of 65.0 or lower over the course of their NFL careers, rarely dipping below 70.0.

Harmon has been a rangy playmaker on the back end of the Patriots’ defense at free safety. He is one of just eight safeties with 10 or more regular-season interceptions over the past three seasons. Trufant is a 6-foot cornerback who came into the NFL with sub-4.4 speed, and he figures to fit well into a Lions defense that plays a lot of press-man coverage. He’s not quite the same player as Slay, but he has shown in Atlanta that he is fully capable of being the No. 1 guy on the outside. Both players, along with Collins, should improve the Lions coverage in 2020 despite the loss of their top player.”

Whether folks think the Lions have added enough or not, the fact remains that the chance does exist for them to make some timely additions to help a needy spot on the team. That’s just what each of these players would provide.

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