Lions could find Quin’s successor at safety in draft

Kent Lee Platte
Special to The Detroit News

The Relative Athletic Score (RAS) system was developed by Kent Lee Platte in 2012 to provide fans with a contextualized score on a 0-10 scale, making it easier to understand how athletic draft prospects are when compared to their position dating back to 1987.

Whether talking about drafting someone to replace an aging starter, or trading away a player near the end of their career, the adage always has been “better a year early than a year too late.” You could probably find several ways to apply this to the Detroit Lions’ roster, but today we’re looking at the safety position.

Glover Quin is one of the most underappreciated players in the league, and one of its more versatile safeties. The team also got various returns from each of the other safeties: Tavon Wilson (7.45 RAS), Miles Killebrew (8.18), and Quandre Diggs (2.48). Diggs and Wilson are only signed through 2018, however, and with Quin now 32 years old, the team needs to look to the future.

Like most positions, safety follows the same trends for Pro Bowls and athleticism. Approximately half of Pro Bowlers at both free and strong safety recorded an RAS over 8.0, and more than 80 percent scored above 5.0.

While it’s easy to look at the careers of guys such as Eric Berry (9.62 RAS), Troy Polamalu (9.24), or the late Sean Taylor (9.23), safety has a much more interesting history with athleticism than the typical numbers would suggest, one that’s worked to the Lions’ benefit.

Only seven of the 60 safeties who made a Pro Bowl since 1987 had an RAS below 5.0, but the list of players with above-average athleticism, but not elite (RAS greater than 8.0), is what makes the position unique. Quin (5.92 RAS) is probably the first name Lions fans would notice, as well as Earl Thomas (5.07). Safety appears to be more clearing the basic athletic benchmarks than elite measurables.

The Lions have been linked to a few of the most athletic safeties in this draft class, prospects like Justin Reid (9.68 RAS), who rated slightly higher than his Pro Bowl brother Eric (9.59). Other top athletes in the class, such as Derwin James (9.28) and Minkah Fitzpatrick (8.38) are likely going well before the Lions pick in the first round, but the success rate of mid-range RAS safeties offers some promise later in the draft.

If the team is looking for a successor to Quin, DeShon Elliott (5.10 RAS) scored slightly better than Thomas (5.07), another former Texas standout, but won’t cost near the draft capital. Jessie Bates (7.08) of Wake Forest and West Virginia’s Kyzir White (7.47) are a pair of Day 2 safeties who the Lions could look at. Both have better overall athleticism than future Hall of Famer Ed Reed (6.54) and Falcons breakout star Keanu Neal (6.05) did when they were drafted.

There is a stronger correlation between athleticism and success at strong safety, which is part of the reason players like James and Reid are so coveted. Beyond Reid, the Lions could also consider Virginia Tech’s Terrell Edmunds (9.86 RAS) or Penn State’s Marcus Allen (8.04) in Rounds 2 or 3 to be a long-term answer at the position.

If the Lions address other needs in the first three rounds, the team won’t be without safety options in the later rounds. Virginia’s Quin Blanding (7.22) didn’t run the fastest 40, but like West Virginia’s White, Blanding posted a great 10-yard split. That’s notable because of the success of players like Jairus Byrd (6.65) and Tashaun Gipson (6.17), both Pro Bowlers with similarly good short-area burst despite disappointing long speed numbers.

The Lions always could end up staying put at the safety position in the draft, despite the expiring contracts and aging Quin. But if they don’t stand pat, this is a good class to find some long-term help at the position.

New coach Matt Patricia was known to utilize multiple safeties in his scheme as New England’s defensive coordinator, so it’s possible he brings those sorts of packages to Detroit. Maybe he’ll even find another Patrick Chung (7.35 RAS), a key cog to the Patriots’ defensive success.

Kent Lee Platte is a freelance writer.