For the Lions to get back into the playoffs in 2018, they're going to need a number of young players to step up and take on big roles. The NFL is a sink or swim league, and sometimes the contributions made by the youngest players on the roster are the ones that make the biggest difference.
As the start of training camp nears, Tim Twentyman and Mike O'Hara continue to try and answer some of the big questions facing the Lions when they start camp.
Monday, we covered the top position battles.
Next up, we discuss which player(s) could surprise Lions fans in training camp. It's no surprise a couple of young second-year players top the list.
2. Which player could surprise Lions fans in training camp?
Tim Twentyman: Cornerback Teez Tabor
The second-year cornerback out of Florida played most of the first-team snaps opposite Darius Slay in the open OTA and minicamp practices this offseason.
The Lions were able to take their time in developing Tabor as a rookie last season after selecting him in the second round. He played in only three of the team's first nine games because of depth at the cornerback position and relatively good health there. As Tabor became more comfortable making the leap from college to the pros, he started making plays in practice and earning himself playing time on Sundays. He played some significant snaps down the stretch last year and made a few plays along the way.
Now in his second season, Tabor gets what it takes to be a good cornerback in this league. He had the benefit of watching one close-up last year in Slay, who's taken Tabor under his wing.
Tabor has a very high football IQ to go along with good length and terrific instincts. He made a number of plays in practices this offseason, including an interception off Matthew Stafford in a team period.
There are a number of options for the starting outside cornerback spot opposite Slay, and whoever wins the job is likely to see plenty of action opposite the All Pro. It appears Tabor is going to get every opportunity to win the job, and he could surprise a number of people who were initially worried about his long speed entering the league.
Second choice: Da'Shawn Hand. The versatile Hand could play a number of different roles for the Lions upfront along their defensive line. He's familiar with the gap-control scheme the Lions want to run on defense coming from Alabama. He's a terrific athlete, and could be a splash playmaker earlier rather than later.
Mike O'Hara: Tight end Michael Roberts
He stands out at a position where it's hard to single out one player as a potential surprise. The entire group could qualify.
Of the six tight ends on the roster, Roberts is the only one who had a catch for the Lions last year – and he had only four out of seven targets. Hakeem Valles is the only other tight end on the roster who played a game for the Lions last year, and his only game was the season finale against the Packers.
Roberts, a fourth-round draft pick in 2017, played 15 of 16 games with three starts last year and was used primarily as a blocker. He showed promise in the offseason workouts and mandatory minicamp of being a bigger part of the passing game.
He has an opportunity make a jump with the departure via free agency of Eric Ebron and Darren Fells, the Lions' top receiving tight ends last year. It's in his hands to do it.
Second choice: Safety Tracy Walker. As something of a surprise draft pick – in the third round out of Louisiana-Lafayette – he fits as a choice to be a surprise player. But there's more to the choice than that. He looked like he fit in throughout the offseason workouts. His size – 6-1, 201 pounds – fluid movement and ball skills give him a chance to be a contributor, and in a secondary deep in talent and experience, he can progress at a comfortable rate.
Wednesday's question: Offensive position with the most to prove?