By Michael Downes, John Dolan
Going into Week 8 and coming off a bye, it’s a great time to talk midseason awards. While the Detroit Lions have had an up and down season, there have been some clear-cut, stand out players. Lions beat writers Michael Downes and John Dolan make their picks.
FYI, rookie of the year isn’t going to be talked about. It’s obviously Jarrad Davis.
Offensive Player of the Year
Downes: This is an easy call for me. The offense has been incredibly disappointing, but receiver Golden Tate has stood out. Tate leads the Lions in targets, 48, receptions, 36, and receiving yards, 363. The eight-year vet is praised for his ability to get yards after catch and he’s showing why this season. He’s 11th in YAC with 215. Tate wins the award by default seeing that nobody on this Lions offense wants to do anything productive.
Dolan: Golden Tate, and it isn’t close. Tate leads the Lions by a landslide in targets, receptions and receiving yards, while being tied for first on the team in catch percentage, 76 percent, up from his drop-filled 2016’s percentage, 67 percent. Tate leads all Lions with 17 first downs on the young season. At 5-foot-10, Tate isn’t the biggest or most talented player the Lions have, but the wily veteran, at the tail end of his prime, is the most reliable player on the Lions offense, and has been since his signing in 2014.
Defensive Player of the Year
Downes: Essentially the complete opposite of the offensive award, there are a handful of players that could take this home, but it’s safety Glover Quin simply because he makes plays. He’s second on the team in tackles, 32, passes defended, four, and interceptions, two, and leads the team in forced fumbles, two. He’s been a menace on the field, not just in the passing game, but has found himself in the box stopping the run. Quin’s a jack of all trades kind of player who always seems to make the big play.
Dolan: This may come as a bit of a surprise, but I’m taking Jarrad Davis. I know he’s a rookie and I know he’s missed two games, but even at 21 years old, there is no player more important to the defense than Davis. Despite missing games, he’s third on the Lions in total tackles, 31, and has already registered his first career sack and fumble recovery. As the quarterback of the defense, the team is different with Davis on the field, especially against the run. Davis’ importance was on display in the Carolina game, his first game back from injury, racking up eight tackles and holding the Panthers to 28 yards rushing. If he can stay on the field and avoid the infamous rookie wall, Davis will be the Lions defensive player of the year at the season, too.
Downes: When Darren Fells was signed in the offseason, it was overlooked. Brought in to be a blocking tight end that would only show up in big formations and be Eric Ebron’s back up. With Ebron being… well Ebron, Fells has blossomed into a solid, efficient target for quarterback Matthew Stafford. Through the first three weeks, Fells caught two passes for 11 yards. The last three? An impressive 11 catches and 90 yards. He’s cemented himself as thee tight end in this offense and I expect him to become the main red zone threat.
Dolan: Miles Killebrew the Lions’ 2016 fourth-round draft pick. Last season, Killebrew showed flashes as a backup and on special teams, but this year he’s been given a much larger role on defense and he hasn’t faltered. The 24-year-old started the season behind safety Tavon Wilson on the depth chart, but has seen increased snaps in every game and, despite starting the season as a backup, Killebrew is sixth on the team in tackles with 24, and seventh on the team in defensive snaps played with 230, only 23 behind starting safety Wilson. Killebrew is one of only three Lions defenders with a touchdown this season. His efforts may have flown under the radar for most people, but Pro Football Focus has Killebrew ranked in the top 30 safeties in the NFL. Not bad for a presumed backup at the beginning of the season.
Downes: Have you ever wondered what $135 million can get you? Apparently it gets you four interceptions and six fumbles. Is Matthew Stafford playing horrendously? No, but when you get paid big money you’re expected to make big plays and he’s not. Yes, he has 12 touchdowns, but only four in the first half. Yes, he’s thrown for over 1400 yards, but it’s his lowest average per game since 2010. I get it, he has no time, he’s running for his life out there, but he needs to be better. This was someone who was on the preseason MVP watch.
Dolan: Another one that isn’t even close: Eric Ebron. I’ve been trying to give the former 10th overall pick tight end the benefit of the doubt ever since the oft-maligned selection back in 2014, but he’s had the worst season of his career so far in 2017, and that’s saying a lot. Ebron has a measly 13 catches this year, catching those passes at an embarrassing 50 percent rate. It’s literally a coin flip when you throw the ball to Ebron. Not only has Ebron been underperforming drastically, but he’s also been riding the pine more than ever. Ebron is on the verge of getting out-snapped by Fells (Ebron only leads him by eight snaps), and Fells didn’t even start playing football until he was 27-years-old! If Ebron doesn’t step up his game in a big way by the end of the year, this will be his end of days in Detroit.
Downes: I don’t think there is a player on the offense or the defense that is deserving of the title MVP, it belongs to Matt Prater. That’s right, the kicker. Prater’s been lights out for Detroit, hitting 10-of-12 field goals. Those two misses were from 50-plus yards. He’s also 15-of-15 on extra points. Prater gives the Lions an edge; once the offense crosses the 40-yard-line they are in scoring range. Is this a cop out? Maybe, but I truly believe that Prater is the best player on this roster and you could argue their second best player is making his return against the Steelers: punter Sam Martin.
Dolan: Whether people say he deserves the money or not, quarterback Matthew Stafford is my unquestioned MVP of the Detroit Lions. The NFL has been plagued by poor QB play this season, and Lions fans should consider themselves lucky to have Stafford, who is,without a doubt a top 10 quarterback in the league. Stafford is not having the best season of his career, but he’s still ninth in the league in passing touchdowns even with the bye week, and has the 10th best interception percentage in the NFL, being picked off on just 1.8 percent of his passes. Stafford’s issue is that he’s been sacked a whopping 23 times, the second-most in the league. My hope is that the return of left tackle Taylor Decker in the coming weeks will quell those numbers a bit, but even if they don’t, the Lions will go as Stafford goes, making him the MVP of the team.