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2016 Position Breakdown: Linebacker

The good: Detroit's defense was a middle-of-the-pack unit in most of the major statistical categories, despite suffering injuries to major contributors like Ziggy Ansah, DeAndre Levy and Darius Slay along the way.

The Lions ranked 13th in points allowed (22.4), 18th in yards allowed (354.8), 19th in passing yards allowed (248.4) and 18th against the run (106.3).

View photos of the Detroit Lions linebackers in 2016.

In his first full season as the MIKE linebacker, Tahir Whitehead finished with a team-high 132 tackles, which were the ninth most in the NFL. His 99 solo tackles ranked third.

Veteran Josh Bynes was able to step in midseason and add some stability to a position dealing with injury.

Rookie Antwione Williams flashed at times, and is a developing player.

The bad: There was a big lack of playmaking ability at the position. Detroit's linebackers didn't force a single turnover. They also didn't have any sacks. The only splash play from the position was a fumble recovery by Williams.

The team missed Levy, who sat out Weeks 3-13 with quad and knee injuries. He recorded 21 tackles in five games played in 2016 with one pass defended. He was obviously still shaking off the rust from so much time missed over the last two seasons, but Lions GM Bob Quinn thinks he can regain the form that made him an All-Pro in 2014.

"I think he can be the same player he was a couple years ago," Quinn said. "It looks like to me he was getting healthier and healthier as the weeks went on when he came back. That's what we envision."

Quinn traded for linebacker Jon Bostic in the offseason, but he missed the entire year due to a foot injury.

Key stat: The Lions' tackles for loss were down as a whole this year over last year, but the drop at the linebacker position was particularly noticeable. Bynes led all linebackers with four tackles for loss. He played in just nine games. In all, Detroit's linebackers totaled just 10 tackles for loss during the regular season. That's down from 25 in 2015.

Free agents: Bynes and Bostic are both free agents.

Bynes had 38 tackles in nine games and defended four passes.

Bostic never got a chance to really show what he could do, but he should be 100 percent by the offseason training program. It will be interesting to see if Quinn signs him back to give him an opportunity to show what he can do in this scheme.

Draft: Alabama's Reuben Foster is the cream of the crop at inside linebacker. Foster can run, cover and blitz. He could be an immediate impact player in the middle of a defense.

Jarrad Davis (Florida), Raekwon McMillan (Ohio State) and Zach Cunningham (Vanderbilt) are other names to consider for 4-3 teams wanting to bolster their linebacking corps in the first couple days of the draft.

MVP: Whitehead stepped in full time at the MIKE to replace Stephen Tulloch, and finished in the Top 10 in the league in total tackles and among the league leaders in solo tackles.

He's worked his way up from a special teams player his first two seasons in the league to a productive starter.

Quotable: "We were able to get a lot of guys some game-time experience this year," Whitehead said of what he's looking forward to for next season. "We suffered a lot of injuries and guys stepped up and played key roles this year, young guys in particular. "I think that's something we can stand on and move forward with going into next season."

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