Detroit News reporters John Niyo and Justin Rogers break down the Lions' upcoming primetime showdown with the NFC North-leading Packers. Justin Rogers, The Detroit News
Allen Park — The Lions had some special teams struggles to start the season, but the coverage units have not been among the issues. Through four games, the team is allowing 21.9 yards per kickoff return and a paltry 3.2 yards on punt returns.
While the success of those groups is a collective effort of 11 players fulfilling their assignments, one has stood above the rest to start the season — linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin.
Despite the Lions already having their bye week, Reeves-Maybin is pacing the NFL with seven special teams tackles. He's only two away from matching the team's leader from a year ago, when Nick Bellore tallied nine stops.
“He’s been really good in those coverage phases, in those units," Lions coach Matt Patricia said. "He’s playing big, he’s playing fast, he’s playing strong. (We’ll) probably anticipate some different return looks for him as we push forward, so he knows he’s got his work cut out in front of him. As far as his production so far, he’s really been critical for us in those situations."
Reeves-Maybin, never one for saying much to the media, downplayed the early season success as the fruits of experience.
"I'm really just trying to make the plays that come my way, take advantage of those opportunities," Reeves-Maybin said. "I think (coordinator John Bonamego) does a good job of scheming up our special teams, everyone out there is playing hard and I'm just making those plays that come my way.
"I just feel a little more experienced, a little more comfortable with things. That's helping me out."
Reeves-Maybin is on pace to smash last season's league high of 17 special teams tackles. The last time a Lions player finished top-five in the category was 2016, when Don Carey was credited with 16 coverage stops.
At this point, every Lions fan knows the team scored a major bargain drafting wide receiver Kenny Golladay late in the third round of the 2017 draft, but maybe don't fully realize how big of a steal the selection has been for general manager Bob Quinn.
This week, ESPN revisited the draft and mocked up what the top-10 picks would look like knowing what we know now. In the revised projection, the publication has Golladay going No. 7 overall to the Los Angeles Chargers, directly ahead of two-time Pro Bowl running back Alvin Kamara.
"In retrospect, there are a number of receivers who would have made better choices," ESPN's Kevin Seifert wrote about the Chargers' actual choice, wide receiver Michael Williams. "One is Cooper Kupp, a Rams third-round pick who has turned into a reliable big-play threat for (Jared) Goff. But I went with Golladay, who more closely fits what the Chargers were seeking in Williams — and he has nearly twice as many receptions for the Detroit Lions after they selected him 96th in 2017."
Golladay was the 12th receiver off the board in 2017 but second behind JuJu Smith-Schuster in the ESPN piece. Golladay's 1,783 receiving yards are currently fourth in the class at the position, trailing Smith-Schuster, Kupp and Tampa Bay's Chris Godwin.