The good: Veteran outside linebacker Devon Kennard tied for the team lead in sacks (7.0) with defensive end Trey Flowers. Kennard was also second behind Flowers in quarterback hits (9) and hurries (27). He matched his sack total from last season, but where Kennard was really much better than he was a year ago was defending the run along the edge. His run-stop percentage was up considerably from a year ago.
Rookie Jahlani Tavai, who the Lions selected in the second round last offseason, played a key role on defense from the get go, and showed some playmaking ability. He finished with 58 tackles, 2.0 sacks, an interception and a forced fumble. Hopefully the shoulder injury he suffered Week 16 in Denver doesn't limit him too much this offseason. He showed some nice things as a rookie, and players usually take their biggest jump in development from year one to year two.
Kennard, Tavai, Jarrad Davis and Christian Jones, Detroit's top four linebackers on the year, all finished with at least 50 tackles.
View photos of the Detroit Lions' linebackers from the 2019 season.
The bad: The numbers on defense for the Lions speak for themselves, and the linebackers played their part in those end results. Detroit won just three games and finished 31st in overall defense and 26th in scoring defense. They were 21st against the run (115.9 ypg), and second worst at creating negative plays.
It was an inconsistent 2019 season for Detroit's linebackers.
It was a down year production-wise for Davis, who missed five games due to injury. After being one of only two players (Darius Leonard) in the NFL last season to record at least 100 tackles and six sacks, Davis had 63 tackles and just 2.0 sacks in 2019. He did force three fumbles. For a third straight season, opposing quarterbacks had a passer rating above 100.0 when targeting Davis.
Injuries were a big story for the Lions in 2019, and they impacted the linebacker play. Davis, Tavai and Jones all ended the season on injured reserve. Starting linebackers missed a combined nine games due to injury this past season.
Key stat: The goal of any defense is to get off the field and give the ball back to the offense. Detroit allowed the second most first downs (365) among the league's 32 defensive units.
Free agents: All nine linebackers who played in at least one game for the Lions and made at least one tackle this season are under contract for the 2020 season.
Draft: For a defense on the lookout for more playmakers, the Lions could certainly find themselves in the market for a versatile playmaker that can move around and play a number of different roles.
One player who could potentially fit that bill, maybe as high as the No. 3 overall pick, is Clemson's Isaiah Simmons (6-4, 230). He can play linebacker and safety, and could be a chess piece for a creative defensive mind.
If the Lions look to bolster the position a little later on, Kenneth Murray (Oklahoma), Anfernee Jennings (Alabama), Terrell Lewis (Alabama), Zack Baun (Wisconsin), Malik Harrison (Ohio State), Troy Dye (Oregon), Akeem Davis-Gaither (App. State) and Josh Uche (Michigan) are some other names to consider.
MVP: From a production standpoint, Kennard has to get the nod. He was tied for fifth on the team with 58 tackles, but his 7.0 sacks and one forced fumble are the kind of plays the Lions need more of.
Kennard is also the Lions' nominee for the Walter Peyton Man of the Year Award.
Most improved: From the beginning of the season to the end, we could see Tavai develop and grow much more comfortable in head coach Matt Patricia's defense. He was trusted enough to call the signals in a few games, and his overall understanding of his keys and run fits improved throughout the course of the year. Tavai should enter 2020 having a key role on the Lions' defense.
Quotable: "Really good scheme fit for what we do, very versatile," Lions GM Bob Quinn said of the two-year contract extension Jones signed during the season. "As you guys know, when we're trying to build the front seven, it's really hard to find linebackers that can play on the line of scrimmage and off. I think Christian has obviously shown he can do that at a good level.
"I thought with his contract coming up we had some discussions midseason with his agent. It came together pretty quickly actually, and we thought it was a fair deal for a guy that's played a lot of good football for us the last couple of years."