Here are two players who caught Dan Campbell’s eye reviewing Lions personnel

Detroit News

Justin Rogers
| The Detroit News

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After the Detroit Lions hired general manager Brad Holmes and Dan Campbell last month, one of the first priorities for the new leadership tandem was a weekend-long deep dive into the team’s personnel. 

Those film sessions will set the tone for the offseason ahead. They provide Holmes and Campbell a thorough sense of what they have and what they need. And, despite the failures of the past few seasons, the cupboards are far from bare. 

The Lions have Pro Bowlers in center Frank Ragnow and tight end T.J. Hockenson, Taylor Decker is a quality left tackle coming off his best season, and running back D’Andre Swift showed star potential as a rookie.

Even on defense, where the Lions are coming off the worst statistical performance in franchise history, defensive end Trey Flowers and safety Tracy Walker have plenty of good film, while last year’s first-round draft pick Jeff Okudah has the skills and mentality to rapidly develop into one of the league’s best at the position. 

The team should be set at punter for a bit, too. Jack Fox, in his first season, just set franchise records for gross and net punting. 

But surely some under-the-radar pieces caught Campbell’s eye during the review. That’s true, including one who is entering free agency. 

“Look, I can’t tell you what we’re going to do in free agency, but when you state it like that, Jarrad Davis, there’s something about that guy, man,” Campbell told the Detroit News last weekend. “Things I hear about the way he was coached, and just knowing the ability and aggressiveness, he intrigues me. He pops off the tape and you feel like, man, can we help this guy? Can we make this guy a better player?”

This is the second time Campbell has mentioned Davis in an interview. Talking to 97.1 The Ticket shortly after his hire, he raved how the linebacker popped on film when preparing for the Lions as a member of the New Orleans Saints coaching staff. 

“One of the first things I circled was, man, if we’re running inside zone and we’re running our 42 ace, our lead draw, and you’re leading on No. 40, man, you better frickin’ be ready for him to drop his hat and hit you right under the chin,” Campbell said. “He will literally split your chin open and knock your hat off.”

The potential with Davis has always been tantalizing. A first-round pick in 2017, he possesses top-tier athleticism with unmatched football character. But the production has unfortunately never matched the potential.

Immediately thrust into a starting role as a rookie, he saw his playing time reduced by the end of the season due to coverage struggles. He was at his best in his second season, improving in coverage and developing as an effective blitzer, but those gains were lost during an injury-hampered 2019. 

After the Lions declined the fifth-year option on his contract last offseason, Davis’ playing time was reduced to its lowest level in 2020. He appeared in 14 games but saw the field fewer than 30% of Detroit’s defensive snaps. 

Despite his early-career struggles, there figures to be a modest market for Davis based on his athleticism, flashes of potential and that football character. And from the sounds of it, Campbell would like the Lions to be in the mix, to see if the new coaching staff can rehabilitate the linebacker’s career and develop him into the player the team initially envisioned he could be.

On the other side of the ball, Campbell offered an even more unexpected name that grabbed his attention during the film sessions — offensive lineman Halapoulivaati Vaitai. 

“Shoot, man. I’ll be honest, Big V intrigues me,” Campbell said. “I’m watching this guy and I’m like, ‘All right.’ The more tape I’ve watched on Big V, he’s growing on me. That’s a good thing. I think he’s kind of versatile and I think there’s some things he can do.”

A top free-agent addition a year ago, injuries limited Vaitai to 10 games and he couldn’t even finish half of those. The Lions had signed him to play right tackle, but a season-long foot injury limited his mobility and pushed him inside to guard. 

Even in that limited playing time, he managed to allow more sacks than any Detroit lineman in 2020, coughing up six. Still, Campbell is a believer and will look to get the big man back on track next season.

“I’m encouraged, I really am,” Campbell said. “There’s some stuff here. I can’t guarantee you what’s going to happen next year, but I know we’re going to do everything we can to create an attitude and a confidence. Whatever is in this building, we must develop and make better. Whatever they were last year, they have to take one step forward. They have to. That’s our job.”

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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