The Lions have lost three straight and just traded starting safety Quandre Diggs. Lose another and the wheels might come off the bus. Justin Rogers, The Detroit News
Undoubtedly overshadowed by the thrashing laid by the Minnesota offense on Sunday — and the carnage of injury and trade news on Tuesday — have been a couple of unheralded bright spots for the Detroit Lions.
Wide receiver Marvin Hall Jr. and defensive tackle Kevin Strong are making their marks after both their pickups were originally tiny-type transaction fodder you might have missed.
Like defensive end Romeo Okwara and cornerback Mike Ford last season, the under-the-radar pickups by Bob Quinn could be around a while.
Hall leads all NFL pass catchers with 38.0 yards per catch, better than anyone with at least four receptions by 15.4 yards. His 25.3 yards per target leads any player who has at least six targets by 8.2 yards (DeSean Jackson, 17.1 in nine targets). Each of his Hall’s catches have gone for first downs with two of them going for over 40 yards, although he has not yet scored a touchdown.
In Sunday’s 42-30 loss, Hall caught a 47-yard pass right at the sideline with Minnesota safety Anthony Harris all over him. It was the second over-the-shoulder deep catch in as many weeks, as he caught one for 58 yards against Green Bay.
“He has done a great job, I mean that catch he made today was great,” quarterback Matthew Stafford said Sunday. “It looked really good from a long way away. I saw a close-up picture of it, and it was a great catch. Contested, over the shoulder, way down the field. I was happy for him.”
Hall now has four receptions for 152 yards on the season, catching at least one 30-yard pass in each of the last three games. He has helped the rejuvenation of Stafford’s deep ball, which has been opened up by new offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell.
According to the NFL’s Next Gen stats, Stafford is second in completed air yards (7.9 yards per attempt), and third in intended air yards (10.5) after keeping it mostly short last season.
Hall, 26, was undrafted out of Washington but played the last two seasons for Atlanta, compiling 12 catches, 209 yards and two touchdowns for the Falcons.
After Chicago cut him after training camp, the Lions added Hall to the practice squad on Sept. 4. Hall caught two passes against Kansas City while the Lions were without injured slot receiver Danny Amendola.
With Amendola back in the mix, Hall still has a role as a deep threat.
“We did our research on him and knew that he had great speed and had great ability to get vertical in the defense,” Lions coach Matt Patricia said. “Just a guy that has really come through for us in some of those moments. We’ll continue to push him and obviously expand whatever we can with him and see how he does with that.”
Strong, 23, was an undrafted free agent out of Texas-San Antonio. Pro Football Focus graded him as the Lions best defensive player on Sunday at 90.3, far and away ahead of everyone else: The next best defender was Trey Flowers at 66.2.
Strong played a career-high 45 snaps in his sixth career game Sunday, and his two tackles also were a career best.
Strong was one of three undrafted rookie free agents to make Detroit’s 53-man roster out of training camp, joining offensive lineman Beau Benzschawel and special teams ace C.J. Moore.
“I think Kevin is a young player, learning, and gives great effort,” defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni said. “What you have to love about Kevin is that he goes out every day and he works hard. He focuses on getting a little bit better every single day, and we’re pleased to have him.”
Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.