The good: After an admittedly down 2020 season, veteran safety Tracy Walker had a bounce-back fourth season for Detroit in 2021.
Walker was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week for his Week 18 performance vs. the Green Bay Packers, when he tallied 13 tackles and a game-sealing interception to secure the 37-30 victory over the top team in the NFC. He became the first Lions safety to win the award since Glover Quin in 2014.
Walker led the Lions with 105 tackles, reaching 100 tackles for the second time in his career. Opposing passers completed 62.5 percent of their passes thrown Walker's way and he allowed two touchdowns on the year.
Veteran Dean Marlowe stepped in to start the last eight games alongside Walker when Will Harris was moved to cornerback, and Marlowe recorded a career-high 67 tackles (37 solo). He allowed one touchdown in his coverage area all season, per Pro Football Reference statistics.
View photos of the Detroit Lions Ss from the 2021 NFL season.
The bad: Detroit allowed 56 receptions of 20-plus yards this season, which ranked 24th in the NFL. Detroit's defense also allowed the most passing yards of any of the league's 32 teams (1,058) on passes that traveled at least 21 yards in the air with a 96.5 passer rating for opposing quarterbacks on such throws.
The safety position accounted for just two interceptions for the Lions this season, with Walker and reserve safety C.J. Moore recording one apiece.
Overall, there was a lack of impact plays (interceptions, sacks, tackles for loss, passes defended) by Detroit's safety group.
Key stat: To show just how versatile Walker is, despite the fact he was the team's starting safety, he played 124 snaps on special teams and is one of only two NFL players (Adrian Phillips) to post at least 300 defensive tackles and 15 special teams tackles since 2018.
Free agents: Tracy Walker (unrestricted), Dean Marlowe (unrestricted), C.J. Moore (restricted) and Jalen Elliott (exclusive rights).
The Lions have some decisions to make at safety with Walker, Marlowe and Moore, their top three safeties at the end of the year, all headed toward free agency. Walker loves the scheme and coaching staff, and said he wants to return, but as is the case in all free agency matters, money will play a factor.
Here are some of the top safeties set to become free agents around the league: Marcus Williams (New Orleans), Jessie Bates III (Cincinnati), Tyrann Mathieu (Kansas City) and Marcus Maye (New York Jets).
Defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn has close ties to Williams from their time together in New Orleans when Glenn was the defensive backs coach for the Saints the previous five season before coming to Detroit.
Draft: Kyle Hamilton is going to be an interesting name that comes up a lot over the next couple months leading into the draft. The former Notre Dame safety is a physical freak and comes in at No. 4 on Mel Kiper Jr's latest Big Board. He's going to test through the roof at 6-foot-4, 220 pounds. He can play safety and linebacker, and is speedy and athletic enough to cover receivers.
Hamilton is one of the most versatile defenders in the draft, and I suspect Lions GM Brad Holmes will do his homework on Hamilton leading up to the draft. Lions players that played with Hamilton at Notre Dame couldn't say enough good things about him as a player and person.
Michigan's Daxton Hill is another player who could go in the first round.
Other names to keep an eye on are: Jaquan Brisker (Penn State), Lewis Cine (Georgia) and Verone McKinley (Oregon).
MVP: Walker was steady and consistent all season long anchoring the safety group. He joined Bennie Blades as the only Lions defensive backs to produce multiple 100-tackle seasons. He was one of five NFL safeties to produce at least 100 tackles, one interception and one sack this season. Since becoming a full-time starter in 2019, Walker has posted 286 combined defensive tackles, tied for the sixth-most among all NFL safeties in that span.
Most improved: This is usually a category reserved for young players, but looking where the veteran Marlowe came from and the opportunity he got in Detroit this year, he made the most of his increased chance to play. He had nine starts this season, which was more than his previous five seasons combined. His PFF grades improved across the board from last season in Buffalo. He also showed an ability to play slot corner (81 snaps).
Quotable: "Tracy had already been with us obviously, but a new scheme, a new regime, new coaching staff, and he responded well, he really did," Holmes said after the season. "And, I thought he played good football for us and he really bought into everything that we're doing. I was really happy for him."