Elite Young Safety Fits as Lions’ Top Defensive Back Free Agency Target

John Johnson

Getty John Johnson running after a fumble recovery.

The Detroit Lions are thinking about how to improve their team ahead of the 2021 season, and one of the biggest spots on the team that needs help is the defense.

Detroit’s been bad as a whole at that spot for the last few seasons, and a big reason has been the play of the back end. The Lions haven’t intercepted the ball, and have not been able to control the passing attacks of the opposition. That’s been the bad news, but the good news is the team does have some young pieces to rely on and could find a way to add to the mix in the next few weeks to boost the spot.

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So what players should the Lions be looking closest at when all is said and done? Here’s a look at some of the names that the team could pursue to give their defensive backfield a major leg up when all is said and done.

John Johnson III, Safety, Los Angeles Rams

Johnson is just the kind of guy the Lions need to spend big on in order to help fill out their secondary. He will fit the scheme and be the type of player the team can build around moving forward. At 25, Johnson is one of the true ascending talents in the league and could quickly be paid as one by a team. Detroit could give Johnson a bigger role and might be willing to pony up some big cash for him to come into the mix. With 350 tackles and 8 sacks, Johnson is the type of rising star that plenty of teams will be excited to try and woo. Perhaps Detroit could have an inside track with Aubrey Pleasant on the coaching staff as well as Brad Holmes in the front office.

Janoris Jenkins, Cornerback, New Orleans Saints

At this point in his career at 33, Jenkins is a bit of an old dog, but the Lions could use him to teach their youngsters some new tricks. Jenkins was a player that new Detroit defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn depended on in a big way, and the pair could re-unite in Detroit if the money is right. Jenkins isn’t going to wow anyone with his numbers at this point, but he did put together an impressive 55 tackle and 3 interception season last year. Numbers like that would make him one of the more productive Detroit cornerbacks in the last few seasons in spite of the seemingly low totals.

Casey Hayward, Cornerback, Los Angeles Chargers

Hayward was a surprise release recently, and is a player who at 31 years old could be a key piece in a backfield for a team looking for a veteran leader. The Lions could be one such team after shaving all their veteran cornerbacks in recent days. With 385 tackles and 23 interceptions, Heyward is a sneaky productive option and a team like Detroit should be all-eyes given his ability to defend the pass and perhaps also serve as a major leader for their young cornerbacks already on the roster.

Keanu Neal, Safety, Atlanta Falcons

Neal is a young option for teams that perhaps has fallen through the cracks. At 25, he is one of the younger safeties that will hit the market after being cut from the roster in Atlanta. In his career, Neal has only put up 2 interceptions and 338 tackles, which might be low production to some but decent production for a team like Detroit that could use it out of the defensive backfield. Neal could be the perfect buy low option for the team, but plenty of others could be interested for this reason.

Tre Boston, Safety, Carolina Panthers

At 28, Boston is still a young man in football terms and has been very productive in the early part of his career in the league. A fourth-round pick out of UNC in 2014 of the Carolina Panthers, Boston joined the Los Angeles Chargers in 2017 where he crossed paths with Anthony Lynn. After a one-year stop with the Arizona Cardinals in 2018, Boston returned for the last pair of seasons in Carolina before his release.

As for production, Boston has been sneaky good in his career with 429 tackles, 15 interceptions and 3 sacks. He’s also deflected 42 passes and scored 1 touchdown during his time in the league. Boston’s 95 tackle season in 2020 would make him the most productive safety on the Detroit roster.

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