The 10 Best Detroit Lions Under 30

James Van Etten@jbvanettenContributor IFebruary 15, 2012

The 10 Best Detroit Lions Under 30

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    The Detroit Lions roster is now full of young, talented players, but there are 10 players who stand out as the best under the age of 30.

    The third decade of life is a benchmark for many. Some finally have matured to the point of settling down and embracing married life, others finally begin to see their paychecks as more than just beer money and car payments while building a nest egg for one of life’s biggest purchases, a home.

    For a NFL athlete, 30 is also a beginning; the beginning of the end.

    With the average NFL career spanning three-and-a-half years and the average age of a NFL player being only 27, if you’re still strapping up the chinstrap on Sundays in your 30s, consider yourself lucky.

    The Detroit Lions 2011 roster was the fourth oldest in the NFL, according to ESPN, and like most statistics, these numbers can easily be manipulated to paint whatever picture the author would like.

    I would argue the Lions are not only full of young talent, but in two years the Honolulu Blue and Silver will be one of the youngest rosters in the league and possibly one of the best.

    The majority of the elder statesmen in the Lions locker room are backups, veterans who within the next two years will be replaced with the talent selected under the watchful eye of Martin Mayhew and his scouting department.

    Following are who I feel are the 10 best players currently on the roster for the Detroit Lions, under the ripe old age of 30.

Justin Durant

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    Age:  26

    Despite missing three games, Justin Durant was still fifth on the team with 68 tackles. In his first year with Detroit, Durant filled the huge void at "Will" linebacker.

    With so many free-agent contracts, that will garner a majority of the Lions’ attention, this offseason; Durant’s final year of his contract will go unnoticed by most.

    But rest assured, the fifth-year veteran from Hampton and his agent are well aware that 2012 will be a huge year for him and probably lead to the last big contract of his career. Expect a strong campaign next year from Durant.

Nick Fairley

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    Age:  24

    Nick Fairley is currently viewed by Lions fans similar to an oversized gift box in the eyes of a young birthday boy. You’re not really sure what’s in it, but damn the gift is so big, it has to be good!

    Although Fairley spent a majority of his rookie year on the sidelines nursing a foot injury, he showed glimpses of dominance, especially in the Sunday night game in New Orleans.

    With only 15 tackles and one sack, his numbers only warrant the label of potential. But Nick has no history of injuries and has had no previous issues with concussions.

    His ceiling is currently higher than Jahvid Best who could have played his last game or is possibly one hit away from his career ending.

    Fairley is locked up for the next few years and I would anticipate him getting more playing time next year alongside House of Spears, with much better numbers in 2012.

Rob Sims

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    Age:  28

    The one thing teams look for in offensive linemen is durability and Rob Sims, besides being the most talented offensive lineman in Detroit, is also as reliable as a Randy Jackson calling somebody "dawg" during American Idol.

    Sims has started all 32 games during his time in Detroit and had missed only two games the year prior.

    Sims values the chemistry he and Jeff Backus have developed in just two years and would like nothing more than the Lions to re-sign his left-side compadre.

    But with Backus now 34 years young, Sims should prepare himself for a new body at left tackle, whether it’s this year or next. Regardless, Sims will continue to man the left guard spot for the foreseeable future. 

Brandon Pettigrew

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    Age:  26

    Brandon Pettigrew is becoming everything Martin Mayhew and the Lions hoped for when they sent Roy Williams back home to Texas and received a first-round pick from the Dallas Cowboys in return.

    Pettigrew has started every game the past two seasons and has finished third in the NFL in receptions for a tight end in both years.

    Remember, this was a guy who was drafted because of his ability to block as a tight end, not to be the next Kellen Winslow Sr.

    That expectation may still be a bit too lofty for the third-year Oklahoma State Cowboy, but with the continual evolution of the tight end position, Pettigrew is an integral part of the Lions passing attack, trailing only Calvin Johnson in receptions and yards this past season.

Chris Houston

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    Age:  27

    Without question, Chirs Houston’s 2011 campaign was the best of his career.

    His 50-plus tackles in 13 games was nothing special, but his five interceptions were good enough for eighth best in the NFL.

    More impressive were his two interceptions returned for touchdowns and total return yardage of 225, which were both best in the league.

    The thrashing Drew Brees put on the Lions secondary in the playoffs reaffirmed the glaring weakness in the Lions defense and left Houston as the only member of the defensive secondary deserving to make this list.

    Many will say Louis Delmas should be mentioned, but without an interception since his rookie year and the 70-tackle, three-interception year had by Amari Spievey, the argument can be made that Delmas isn’t even the best safety on the team.

    The re-signing of Eric Wright and/or an additional playmaker on the backend via free agency or the draft, will help keep Houston a cornerstone for Detroit.  

Titus Young

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    Age:  22

    Sometimes a good player gets lucky and just falls into the ideal situation and becomes great; Titus Young is beginning to look the part.

    Young had a rough start to his NFL career, battling injuries in training camp which as a rookie wide receiver learning a complex NFL passing tree can be a death sentence.

    But to Titus’ credit, he did not use that as an excuse and had the league’s seventh-best season for a rookie with 607 yards and fourth best in touchdowns with six.

    Stafford showed faith in the Boise State Bronco, going to him often in critical third-down situations and Young improved as the season progressed, scoring four of his six touchdowns in the final four games.

    Although Nate Burleson will continue to start opposite of Calvin Johnson, Young is the more dynamic receiver and his contributions to the passing game will continue to increase next year.

DeAndre Levy

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    Age:  24

    With all of the free agency talk centered on Cliff Avril and Stephen Tulloch, lost is the fact that DeAndre Levy trailed team-leader Tulloch in tackles, by only two.

    Yes, with 109 tackles, Levy held his own as he made the transition back to outside linebacker after he played the previous year in the middle.

    His versatility may allow the Lions to let Tulloch go if his price gets too high and with Cliff Avril stating he would move back the the “Sam” backer position if necessary; Levy’s ability to play both the “Sam” and “Mike” positions allow the Lions greater flexibility.

    This would allow the Lions to continue to exercise their theory of “best player available” and look for both defensive ends and linebackers whom they feel will best fit their scheme.

    I realize Levy is a restricted free agent, but he is certainly not going anywhere and that’s why I will view him as a current roster player.

Ndamukong Suh

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    Age:  25

    Wow, what a year for Ndamukong Suh. The meeting with Goodell, the stomp, the crash, the lies, the defiance; the best thing that could have happened to Suh this year finally did, it ended.

    Suh had a textbook “sophomore slump” accumulating only 36 tackles and four sacks, approximately half his production from his Pro Bowl rookie season.

    What can we expect from one of the more fiscally charitable players in the NFL going forward? You would like to think Ndamukong will revert to the play of his first season if he can get his head straight and start fresh in August.

    Suh is too big, too strong and too intelligent for a lapse in judgment to ruin his career, Ndamukong will again be a dominant force in the middle of the Lions front four and with a healthy Nick Fairley in the rotation, Suh will only get better.

Matthew Stafford

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    Age:  24

    Anybody out there still think Aaron Curry should have been the No. 1 overall selection in the 2009 NFL draft?

    OK, besides Mrs. Curry and Curry’s agent, probably no one.

    Watching Matthew Stafford was as frustrating as teaching your child to ride a bike. You knew all the potential was there for stardom, it was just a matter of staying on the seat and pedaling. Once they get that, they’re gone like the wind.

    That moment finally came for both Lions fans and Matt last year as he tossed the pigskin for 5,038 yards, third best in the record-breaking year for passing yardage and in only his first full season, he’s the fourth quarterback in NFL history to pass for over 5,000 yards.

    With also the third-best touchdown total of 41, he had the numbers for a Pro Bowl selection but did not receive the nod, rather Stafford ended up with the Comeback Player of the Year Award and I think he would just assume that be his last.

    Stafford has become the team leader and indisputably the most import player on the roster. If he continues to trend upward, Stafford could eventually also be the best player on the squad and will certainly be the highest paid.

    Whatever Calvin Johnson’s contract ends up being, that will be the starting point for Stafford’s mind-blowing deal.

Calvin Johnson

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    Age:  26

    Simply put, Calvin Johnson is a man amongst boys.

    With Matthew Stafford lobbing the ball up, Johnson makes defending him appear to be an unfair matchup of playground “500.”

    The differential in size and strength between Megatron and the opposing cornerback is not too far removed from Adam Sandler’s dodgeball dominance of his classmates in Billy Madison.

    Now with a legitimate franchise quarterback, Johnson has taken his rightful spot atop the NFL in receiving yards with 1,681 in 2011; the only receiver to average over 100 yards a game.

    Beyond the yardage, Calvin’s 16 touchdown grabs was second only to the 17 amassed by Rob Gronkowski in an unprecedented year for a tight end. But it was Johnson's explosion plays, plays of 20 yards or greater, that put him in a category all his own.

    With 42 explosion plays, Calvin's big plays are nearly 25 percent greater than the second-best vertical receiver, Victor Cruz. It’s not even close who the best receiver in the league is, and who currently is the best Detroit Lion.