Allen Park — The second season is an important one for NFL players. It’s where they’re expected to shake the shackles of information overload rookies experience and blossom into the players they were drafted to be.
Lions general manager Bob Quinn said as much this offseason, when he noted he drafts a player envisioning what they’ll be able to contribute in their second season.
For wide receiver Kenny Golladay, a third-round choice a year ago, he’s likely exceeding the higher end of those expectations through the first five games of his sophomore campaign. Despite being part of a talented receiving trio in Detroit, he ranks 12th in the NFL in receiving yards per game, while hauling in three touchdowns.
Meanwhile, the Lions are still waiting for 2017 second-round pick Teez Tabor to make his jump.
After spending much of his rookie year learning from the bench, Tabor, like Golladay, was primed for a bigger role this season. But after struggling with inconsistency through training camp and the preseason, he wasn’t able to seize a starting job, or even a clear role, for that matter.
Since then, his playing time has varied wildly. In three of the team’s five games, he’s played fewer than five defensive snaps. Yet in Week 2 and Week 5, he was more prominently figured into the game plan, taking 50 and 32 reps, with the most-recent tally anchored by a second-half groin injury.
When Tabor has played, the results haven’t been great. Pro Football Focus currently has him as the lowest-graded player on Detroit’s defense, allowing four receptions on six targets for 65 yards and a touchdown when in coverage.
But there were some bright spots against Green Bay a week ago, before his injury struck, including tight coverage on two throws into the end zone that fell incomplete.
And the Lions coaching staff continues to publicly back the young cornerback's effort and development.
“He prepares extremely well,” defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni said. “He understands the process of getting ready to play an NFL game. We’re excited about his development. He’s working. He’s working to get better like everyone else. We’re very happy we have him. “
Those comments were largely echoed by coach Matt Patricia, who reminded reporters the defense, on the whole, is still growing within the new scheme that’s being installed this year.
“He’s progressing, kind of like the rest of the group back there,” Patricia said. “We’re just at the start of this thing and we’ve got a nice stretch in front of us where we’ve got to make some improvements as we go forward, collectively, as a team and as a unit and as a back end.”
That learning process applies to the coaches, as well, as they continue to gain an understanding of individual skill sets and how to best utilize them.
“(He’s) certainly a guy that has a good skill set and we’re trying to use it to the best of our ability,” Patricia said.
Overall, the Lions’ secondary has been the bright spot of the defense this season. It goes beyond a league-low passing yards allowed, extending to the defense’s success on third downs and the group contributing significantly to the team's 17 sacks.
Depending how the Lions address the loss of nickel corner Jamal Agnew to a knee injury, especially if Nevin Lawson shifts inside more regularly, it opens the door for Tabor to see the field more. There he can start delivering on those expectations the front office had when he drafted him a year ago.