Detroit Lions' 2020 Grades: Defense

Read more on the Lions' season-ending defensive grades
Publish date:

Detroit's defense didn't have many positive moments in 2020. 

It put up franchise-worst marks in both total yards (6,716) and points allowed (519) for a single season. 

Here now are the final grades for the defensive side of the ball after a disastrous campaign. 

Defensive line: D+

Little-to-no pass rush and a lackluster run defense defined this position group in 2020. 

Romeo Okwara was by far the star of this position group and the star of the defense. 

The 25-year-old produced a career-high 10 sacks, 11 tackles for loss and 18 QB hits. And as a result, he's going to get paid handsomely this offseason by the Lions or someone else. 

Everson Griffen -- an impending free agent this offseason, just like Okwara -- came the closest to Okwara in terms of sacks, with 3.5 in seven games with Detroit after being acquired at midseason from Dallas. 

Trey Flowers finished third on the team in sacks, but accounted for only two, after playing in just seven games due to injury. 

It left Okwara as the only consistently productive member of the line over the entirety of the season.  

His counterparts on the D-line, including offseason acquisitions Danny Shelton and Nick Williams, were largely disappointing, contributing to a defense that logged just 24 total sacks -- 1.5 per game -- and allowed a league-high 27 rushing TDs. 

The position group, as a whole, was not good, and the new regime definitely needs to invest more resources in it this upcoming offseason. 

Linebackers: D 

The production of this group was perhaps the most underwhelming -- outside of the secondary -- on the defensive side of the ball in 2020. 

Jarrad Davis, Christian Jones and Jahlani Tavai provided varying degrees of ineffective play, with Tavai looking more and more like a full-fledged draft bust by the end of the season. 

The saving graces of this group were Jamie Collins (a team-high 101 tackles) and Reggie Ragland. Yet, Collins didn't play a full season's worth of games (suited up for 14), and Ragland will be a free agent this offseason. 

If Ragland isn't re-signed and nothing is done to upgrade the linebackers room in the offseason, the position will be in even worse shape in 2021.

Christian Jones celebrates with Jamie Collins during the second quarter against the Houston Texans. 

Christian Jones celebrates with Jamie Collins during the second quarter against the Houston Texans. 

Secondary: F 

Boy, were there struggles for the Lions with stopping the pass this past season. 

They finished No. 30 in passing yards allowed (4,558), dead last in passing touchdowns allowed (38) and third-worst in interceptions recorded (seven). 

Safety Duron Harmon led the team with two picks, and no one else had more than one. 

Additionally, cornerbacks Jeff Okudah, Amani Oruwariye, Darryl Roberts and Desmond Trufant each accounted for a lone interception. 

However, Okudah, the No. 3 overall selection in the 2020 draft, was disappointing in pass coverage all season, and finished with just two passes defensed. 

The Ohio State product also managed to play in just nine games. 

He proved to be a more-than-capable open-field tackler. But, he must be much better in man coverage in his second season as a pro in 2021. 

Meanwhile, Trufant disappointingly suited up for only six games, and fellow veteran defensive back Justin Coleman, who failed to record a single interception, played in a total of 11 contests. 

Then, there's safety Jayron Kearse, who was suspended for the first three games of the season because of a violation of the league's substance abuse policy and then cut before the conclusion of the campaign due to a violation of team rules. 

Speaking of the safeties, Tracy Walker took a notable step back in productivity. He recorded four passes defensed and 87 total tackles in 15 games in 2020, as compared to eight passes defensed and 103 combined tackles in 2019. 

It was a highly disappointing year from this collection of players, leading to the failing grade above. 

Special teams: B 

This was one of the team's strongest units in 2020. 

First-year punter Jack Fox produced the second-highest net yards per punt average for the season (44.8), which played a major role in him being selected to the Pro Bowl. 

The 24-year-old was also named to Pro Football Focus' All-Pro team for his efforts. 

On top of that, Detroit was the best team in the NFL this season when it came to blocking punts. 

It amassed three blocked punts on the year -- all of which came in back-to-back weeks (Weeks 8 and 9). 

First, special teams ace Miles Killebrew blocked a punt in Week 8 against the Indianapolis Colts. 

It was followed by Okwara and Austin Bryant each recording a blocked punt in Week 9 against the Minnesota Vikings. In doing so, the Lions became the first organization to block two punts in a single game since the Vikings accomplished the feat on Nov. 30, 2014. 

Not to be outdone, punt returner Jamal Agnew logged a punt return for touchdown in Week 16 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and averaged 12.7 yards per return on 14 total returns. 

Despite all the successes of this unit in 2020, it's worth noting that ex-special teams coordinator Brayden Coombs was fired after going "rogue" on a fake punt call in Detroit's Week 15 contest with the Tennessee Titans. 

The only other negative for this group of players was veteran kicker Matt Prater's lack of consistency throughout the course of the season. 

He made just 21-of-28 field-goal attempts, leading to a 75 percent success rate -- his lowest percentage on north of 25 attempts since executing on just 73.5 percent of his kicks in 2008 with the Denver Broncos. 

The 36-year-old is set to be a free agent this offseason. So, it'll be interesting to see if the new regime decides to bring him back for another year or two. 

Collectively, this unit put together an impressive campaign in '20.

More from SI All Lions:

Poll: Was Trading for Everson Griffen Worth It?

Detroit Lions Early Draft Big Board

Should the Lions Draft Alabama WR DeVonta Smith?

Odds of Robert Saleh Landing Lions Head Coaching Job

NFL Rumors: Could Lions Trade for Deshaun Watson?

Todd McShay Has Lions Drafting Wide Receiver in Latest Mock Draft

Get the latest Detroit Lions news by joining our community. Click "Follow" at the top right of our SI All Lions page. Mobile users click the notification bell. Be sure to follow us on Twitter @DetroitPodcast.