Lawrence Jackson and 4 Other Under the Radar Detroit Lions to Watch in 2011
For so long the Detroit Lions did not have enough quality players to create a list of relative unknowns who could make an impact. Yet, in the 2011 season there are plenty of players apart from the established performers or early round draft picks like Calvin Johnson, Matthew Stafford or Ndamukong Suh to choose from.
This list will include five players who I believe could break out in 2011 as long as they are given the chance. I will provide a brief run down of their 2010 season, lay out the argument for them breaking out and conclude with a prediction for the 2011 stats.
Lawrence Jackson (DE)
No surprises here for all of you who read the title. This former first-round pick of the Seattle Seahawks has found himself in many biggest busts ever on the Seahawks B/R page, yet he should make a real impact for the Lions this season.
In the 2010 season, Lawrence Jackson was impressive in his limited playing time. He recorded six sacks while only really getting any play time after Week 9. He showed good skills rushing the passer from the left and the right side, and he also was stout against the run.
Now, why he will break out. The primary reason for this is the injury to Kyle Vanden Bosch. While he was the starting right defensive end at the start of last season, he suffered serious injuries last season which are likely to alter his play style. While he will still be a great situational player who can stop the run, his age and injury history should demote him to the backup and motivational leader role.
Also, Jackson's skill set is straight out of the first round. He stands 6'5" and weighs 271 lbs, and also has an explosive first step. He also has the strength to play inside as a defensive tackle on passing downs. He even competed well with Jake Long, one of the best offensive tackles in the league, when the Lions played the Miami Dolphins last year.
The final reason is predicated on the strength of the defensive line. With Cliff Avril on the other side and Ndamukong Suh terrorizing the middle of offensive lines, Lawrence Jackson will not be the highest priority of offensive lines. This will leave him always battling just one offensive lineman, and generally without a great deal of game planning going into stopping him (at least early in the season).
2011 Statistical Prediction: 38 tackles, nine sacks, three forced fumbles, one fumble recovered
Amari Spievey (FS)
Amari Spievey is one player who has really impressed in the 2011 preseason. After struggling in 2010 as a rookie with the speed of the game and learning the new position of safety, so far in the preseason he has looked comfortable in every facet of the game and has looked the best player in the secondary.
Spievey has the skills to be a very solid free safety that will fit the Lions scheme perfectly. He is a solid wrap up tackler who does not miss much. He is also good in zone coverage and rarely gets burned deep (at least so far in 2011). Finally, he has the ability to come down and play solid bump and run coverage against slot receivers and tight ends.
Also, with the great pass rush that the Lions can unleash, and the improved linebacker corps, life should be much easier for the Lions safeties in 2011. They will have to cover less ground because quarterbacks will have to get rid of the ball quickly. Also, with a better linebacker corps he should be able to play the deep safety role more. This should cut down the times he would get drawn in by play action.
2011 Statistical Prediction: 65 tackles, four interceptions, two sacks, one forced fumble, one TD
Keiland Williams (RB)
Williams is another one of those "square pegs" that Martin Mayhew has been so good at collecting over his tenure as the Detroit GM. Williams was cut by the Washington Redskins about a week ago after losing out as the fourth wheel in the Redskins backfield. Nevertheless, he performed last year when he was required to start.
Last year he ran for 261 yards at exactly 4 yards per carry, and was also a good receiving check down option. He is a powerfully built runner with good pad level and bulk, and as well as having the ability to push the pile, he can make yards both between the tackles and outside with his surprising speed and passable quickness. He has safe hands, a necessity for backs in the Lions passing offense, and can also hold his own as a blocker after having spent the majority of his career as a Redskin as a hybrid running back/full back, role which he is likely to play in Detroit as they are not carrying a full time full back.
He will be able to break out in Detroit for one major reason. There is not competition. While the Lions have some good scat backs in Jahvid Best and Jerome Harrison, they lack a great short yardage and between the tackles runner who can pick up yards after contact. This is William's speciality.
2011 Statistical Prediction: 170 carries, 700 yards, seven TDs, 40 rec, 350 yards, one TD
Eric Wright (CB)
This cast off from the Cleveland Browns is a great fit in the Lions defensive scheme, and should have solidified his spot as out No. 1 cornerback by at least midseason. Although he could struggle early in the season as he gets used to the Lions secondary, he has the tools to be a difference maker on out defense.
Wright entered the league in 2007 as a second-round pick from UNLV. Although he lacked polish then, he had elite speed and real playmaking ability. Before last season in Cleveland he played very solid football and was the top cornerback on the Browns' roster. However, last year it all fell apart for him and he was cast off in favor of the rookie star Joe Haden.
Despite his struggles in 2010, Wright has the skill set to dominate in the Lions defense. Everyone in the league knows that we have an elite pass rush, so quarterbacks are generally looking to get the ball out fast. This means that Detroit needs good press corners who can hold up receivers in their routes and make the quarterback hold onto the ball. This is something that Wright does very well. He also has good speed and lateral agility which lets him run with receivers downfield. This is what will allow him to break out in Detroit.
2011 Statistical Prediction: 55 tackles, four interceptions, 14 passes defended
Other Potential Stars
He will be the nickel corner for the season barring injury, given the passing mentality of the current NFL that is pretty much a starting position these days. Berry had a great training camp and has the athleticism, ball skills and instincts to be a impact player as long as he is not isolated outside like he was against Mike Williams.
With all the focus going on Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley when he gets on the field, Williams will see a steady stream of single blockers this season. Although he jumps offside far too much, he is strong against the run and can penetrate against one blocker. He could make five sacks.
Although his role will be purely situational, he is a speedy pass rusher who will accumulate sacks if he gets on the field. Also, with so many good defensive linemen, he will be the last person to be double teamed. We can expect a lot of pressure from this defensive end as a situational pass rusher.
He may not see the field that much, but on passing downs the Lions should be advised to bring him on for Justin Durant. He is solid in coverage, and can still stop the run. Even failing that, given Durant's history of injuries Carpenter will probably have the opportunity to start three or four games this season.