The Detroit Lions got a lot of contributions from their rookie class this season.
First-round pick Jarrad Davis started at middle linebacker from Day 1, and led all rookies and first-year players in the NFL this season with 96 tackles.
Jamal Agnew, a fifth-round pick as a cornerback and return man, earned All-Pro honors as a punt returner.
View photos of the Detroit Lions linebackers in 2017.
Third-round receiver Kenny Golladay showed some of the down-the-field ability that has fans excited for his second season.
Fourth-round linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin was among those rookies that started out with a small role to begin the year, only to see it increase throughout the season. Second-round pick Teez Tabor was another one of those players.
Reeves-Maybin was playing his best football of the season late in the year, finishing three of his last four games with a positive overall grade from Pro Football Focus.
The rookie weakside linebacker finished his rookie campaign with 30 tackles, one sack, three tackles for loss, two passes defended and a forced fumble, playing in about 30 percent of Detroit’s defensive snaps this season.
“I got more reps toward the end of the year and I think I’ve improved (because of it),” Reeves-Maybin said after the season. “I’m just looking to build on that next year.”
One area where the Lions will be looking for Reeves-Maybin to build upon and come back better next season is from a physical standpoint. His speed and instincts stood out at times during his rookie season, but standing at 6-foot and 230 pounds, the Lions would like to see their undersized outside linebacker hit the weight room hard this offseason and build more muscle on his frame.
Reeves-Maybin was very good using his speed to his advantage in coverage. He earned the third-highest coverage grade among all Lions defenders after Darius Slay and Glover Quin by Pro Football Focus. He gave up 14 receptions in 129 pass coverage snaps.
But he was 23rd among Lions defenders against the run, earning an overall negative grade from PFF in that department.
It’s no surprise, based on those numbers, that 54 percent of Reeves-Maybin’s snaps were in pass coverage in 2017.
“Me being an undersized linebacker, I always have to work on that,” he said of improving his strength this offseason in hopes of playing a bigger role next season. “Just keep adding strength and weight and that’s something I’ll be focusing on in the offseason.”
With starter Tahir Whitehead set to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason along with key reserve Paul Worrilow, Reeves-Maybin could be in line for a much greater role in 2018, depending on what happens in free agency and the draft.
When Reeves-Maybin is on the field, the Lions are much faster on defense, and speed kills in this league. Reeves-Maybin has plenty of it.
If he can add needed muscle and weight to his frame, without losing any of that speed, he could be a much bigger factor in Detroit’s defense in 2018.