The good: The move from nickel cornerback to safety the second half of last year became a permanent move this year for veteran Quandre Diggs. He was good in that role from the first play of the season to the last. Diggs had an interception on Detroit’s first defensive play Week 1 vs. the Jets and one on their final play of the year Week 17 in Green Bay.
Diggs is such an instinctual and anticipatory player that being back at safety is a good fit for him. It allows him to see everything happening in front of him. He has terrific ball skills and packs a punch as a tackler for a player his size. His peers and NFL coaches voted Diggs as an alternate to the Pro Bowl.
Rookie Tracy Walker flashed some playmaking ability this year and became more and more a part of some packages on defense as the year went on. He has a long frame and is rangy. He's not afraid to try and make a play. It was a small sample size, but he looks to have real potential at the position.
The bad: The Lions gave up a number of big runs early in the season, and the safeties – the last line of defense on defense – deserve their share of the blame. There were some tackling mishaps in the run game early in the season that were mostly resolved by the end of the season.
Veteran Glover Quin played the fewest snaps of his career (762) as the Lions tried to find ways to get Walker into game. Quin played 77.3 percent of the defensive snaps, the lowest percentage in any season of his career. The 10-year vet had 74 tackles and a sack, but failed to record an interception for the first time since 2011.
Key stat: Diggs was the only defensive back in the NFL this season with 75-plus tackles, three interceptions, three tackles for loss and a pick-six. He and Buffalo’s Jordan Poyer are the only defensive backs in the NFL with 130-plus tackles, eight tackles for loss, six interceptions and a pick-six over the last two seasons combined.
Free agents: Diggs, Quin and Walker are all under contract next season, though Quin has admitted he has to talk to his family and take some time this offseason to ponder possible retirement. Detroit could also decide they want to see Walker play more and move on from Quin. We’ll have to wait and see what each side decides come March.
Charles Washington was a reserve safety and core special teamer this past season. He’s an exclusive rights free agent.
Draft: The Lions could look to add a safety to the group if Quin isn’t in their plans for 2019, especially with some of the three-safety packages they have on defense.
Alabama’s Deionte Thompson is projected right now to be the best safety available by ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay. Thompson had 79 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions, six pass breakups and four forced fumbles on the season, though he did give up some big plays late in the year.
Other top safeties coming out include: Johnathan Abram (Mississippi State), Taylor Rapp (Washington), Juan Thornhill (Virginia) and Jaquan Johnson (Miami).
MVP: Diggs all the way. The Lions gave him a three-year contract extension this year that runs through 2021. He rewarded them with his best season as a professional. As it stands right now, Diggs and cornerback Darius Slay are Pro Bowl caliber players in Detroit’s secondary.
Most improved: Walker steadily gained the trust of the coaching staff -- not easy for a rookie – and by the end of the year was getting important reps on defense as part of an assortment of packages. He ended up playing 27 percent of the defensive snaps and earned a positive grade from Pro Football Focus as both a cover man and run defender. Had he accrued enough snaps, Walker’s PFF grade would have been the 16th best among all the league’s safeties.
Quotable: “I’m always going to have motivation, man,” Diggs said after signing his contract extension back in September. “I’m a sixth-round draft pick, so at the end of the day 32 teams passed me up, so I’m always going to have a chip on my shoulder. It ain’t gonna be nothing different.”