From now until the draft, we’re going to look at each Detroit Lions position group and where things stand as offseason workouts begin this month.
Today continues the series at linebacker.
What the status of the position group is: Deep and stable. If you’re looking for a place with fascinating competition between now and the final cutdown day, it’ll be here. Detroit has four players – and maybe five, depending on how one feels about Bynes – who could start at linebacker somewhere in the NFL.
Levy continues to be one of the best coverage linebackers in the league and should be counted on to do more with the massive changes in the front four. Tulloch is somewhat of a question mark coming off his ACL injury, but there has been nothing to indicate thus far that he won’t be back at full strength.
The biggest question is at the SAM spot, where I’m giving the edge to Van Noy as of now because it is what the Lions drafted him for. Of course, Whitehead is probably the team’s third-best linebacker right now, but he is also an extremely valuable special teams contributor so Teryl Austin has five pieces he could really use in many ways throughout the season.
Add to that the Lions have three core special teamers here – Whitehead, Lewis and Stanford – and there’s no guarantee the last two even make the team since the Lions brought in Copeland after an impressive veteran combine workout.
What needs to happen: Lock Levy in at the WILL. Barring something unforeseen, Tulloch will man the middle in 2015 and likely take over defensive play calls once again – a role Levy had once Tulloch went down last season.
The rest? The Lions can let competition sort all of it out. The only other linebacker guaranteed of a spot is Van Noy, since his contract is going to dictate that. Whitehead should be on the team as well, but he, Lewis and Stanford (restricted) are all in the final years of their contracts. Bynes signed a two-year deal, but with only $250,000 in dead money, it isn’t cost-prohibitive to let him go if need be.
All this is to say the Lions are in really good shape at linebacker. The franchise is in better shape here than anywhere else on the roster, and it should show both in the spring and during the season. It’ll be really interesting to watch what happens.
Draft priority: Very low to non-existent. The Lions have bigger needs everywhere else, so this is either seventh round, undrafted free agent or nothing at all.