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TWENTYMAN: 5 players ready for bigger roles

The Detroit Lions have one more game remaining in Chicago on Sunday before an offseason of uncertainly officially begins. Who will be the permanent GM? Will Jim Caldwell remain the head coach?

Those are the key decisions early on, and the ones that will shape the rest of the decisions to come as the offseason progresses. The Lions will have to make some decisions on the future of about a half dozen aging veterans, which will then impact the roles of some of Detroit's young players.

A number of those young players seemed poised to take on bigger roles moving forward. Here are five to consider:


Taylor has flashed more than ever in his third season in the NFL. Take Sunday vs. the 49ers for example. On back-to-back plays he broke through the line and recorded a tackle for loss and then notched a sack for an 11-yard loss on the next play.

The sack was Taylor's sixth of the season, which is a career high and ranks him second on the team behind Ziggy Ansah (13.5).

Taylor's 31 tackles are also a career high, as he's been a disruptive force when given an opportunity to play as the team's No. 3 defensive end. He's got tremendous size at 6-foot-7 and he's learning to use his leverage and speed to his advantage.

Jason Jones, 29, is a free agent this offseason. Will the Lions give Taylor a chance to win that starting right defensive end spot opposite Ziggy Ansah next season?

Even if Taylor isn't a starter, expect that he'll play a big part as a rotational and situational player.


Jones has come on of late after getting an opportunity to play when Lance Moore was nursing an ankle injury.

He has 10 catches on the season, but nine in the last four games. He had a 29-yard touchdown catch in Sunday's win over the 49ers, and a clutch 29-yard catch against the Packers a few weeks back that looked like it had locked up a victory -- until you know what happened.

"He's really got a huge upside when you look at him," head coach Jim Caldwell said of Jones on Monday.

"He's got return ability, he's faster than what you think, he's tough, he can catch the ball in traffic and I just think he, he hasn't reached the pinnacle yet in his career, but I just think he's got a real bright future ahead of him."

Jones missed his entire rookie season because of shoulder and nerve troubles. He's passed Corey Fuller on the depth chart and could be a nice find as a third or fourth receiver in the sixth round of the draft.


Diggs was thrust into the starting nickel cornerback role when Josh Wilson (knee) was lost for the season. It now appears he'll never give the job back.

Not only is Diggs ranked in the top 10 by Pro Football Focus for his work in the slot, but he's graded as the 16th cornerback overall by the website.

It will be interesting to see if the Lions keep him in the slot or move him outside next season.

He's got a very similar skill-set to that of Denver's Chris Harris Jr. Both are undersized and were knocked for their lack of speed. Harris Jr. has become one of the league's best cornerbacks after starting out on special teams and in the slot.

The Lions appear to have stumbled upon a terrific talent in the sixth round of the draft.


The Lions drafted Carter in the third round because of his length, speed and athleticism.

His rookie season was lost to an ankle injury, but the Lions will need him to play a bigger role next season along with Slay, Lawson and Diggs. Those are four young cornerbacks the Lions will be counting a lot on next season.

We'll see if Carter can get himself on the field on the outside or maybe even in the slot if Diggs moves outside, but at the very least he should be a package player on defense and a strong contributor on special teams.


Abdul-Quddus took over the starting strong safety role midseason and has taken advantage of the opportunity.

A former free safety, he has great speed and can cover, but is a surprisingly good tackler as well. He's actually been much better vs. the run than he has as a cover man.

Abdul-Quddus, 26, is an unrestricted free agent this offseason after signing a one-year $1.5 million contract last offseason.

The Lions are likely to add to the position via free agency or the draft, but Abdul-Quddus is a known commodity and can compete for a starting role opposite Glover Quin next season without breaking the bank. He's also terrific on special teams, which also plays in his favor.

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