There’s nowhere for the Detroit Lions defense to go but up. Last year, they finished last in the NFL in just about every statistical category, and they gave up a franchise record 519 points. Outside of a 10-sack season from Romeo Okwara, there were no silver linings. That defense was awful from front to back.
But with a new season comes new optimism. The Lions have largely overturned that roster, and perhaps more significantly, they’ve completely changed philosophies from Matt Patricia. Detroit is sporting a much younger, energetic coaching staff who comes with a fair amount of accomplishments under their belt. They’ve also got new faces at each level of their defense, including a couple players they highly invested in during the offseason.
Which player will emerge as the most valuable? That’s today’s question as we continue our Lions 2021 season preview.
Who will be the Lions’ 2021 defensive MVP?
Erik Schlitt — Romeo Okwara
You like sacks? Yeah, you do. Well, mark me down for expecting Okwara to eclipse his career-high 10 sacks last season. With an upgraded interior defensive line next to him and a healthy Trey Flowers opposite him, teams are going to have to single up Okwara, which is good news for Lions’ fans.
Jerry Mallory — Okwara
I’m riding the wave of the aforementioned presser and going with Romeo Okwara. He got paid and according to Holmes and Campbell he looks better. Two thoughts on that. 1) I’m not disagreeing with them (obviously not, he’s my DPOY) but they weren’t here last year so whatever comparison they are making won’t be completely accurate. 2) Who wouldn’t look better no longer being under Matt Patricia?
Skepticism of that comment aside, Romeo has a lot going for himself this year. He’s probably entering the prime of career at 26 years of age and his sixth year. The revamped scheme and defensive line should help a ton as well. He should reach double digit sacks again and even get an opportunity in coverage to show off some versatility.
Andrew Kato — Trey Flowers
Now that he is healed, Trey Flowers should once again lead the team in all manner of pass rushing statistics (pressures, QB hits, sacks, whatever). The Lions will send him at the quarterback non-stop and opponents now know they need to worry about the Okwara brothers, so he’ll get better looks than he has in the past.
Ryan Mathews — Jeff Okudah
First-time defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn is charged with developing a very young defensive unit in Detroit, but his track record from his time spent in New Orleans as the Saints defensive backs coach is one of the most encouraging things going for this coaching staff.
I’m expecting a leap unlike many are expecting from Jeff Okudah in his sophomore season, so I’ll take him as the Lions’ defensive player of the year in the 2021 season. With an improved defensive line, a unit capable of creating more pressure than what the previous rocket scientist could dial up, and some of the brightest young coaches in Glenn and defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant, Okudah will not only show signs of improvement each and every week, he’ll look more like a former top-three pick than he did at any point a year ago.
Hamza Baccouche — Flowers
Trey Flowers, but I don’t really feel confident in anyone to take home defensive MVP. I still have a lot of questions about what this defense is going to look like. I’m tempted to pick Amani Oruwariye, but I consider him a CB1B or CB2, not a CB1, and playing him as CB1 won’t put him in a position to be this team’s defensive MVP unless he takes another big step forward in this scheme. I think Flowers is set up well to benefit from a stronger pass-rushing presence than he’s had at any point in his Lions tenure, and it’ll allow him to focus on his strength of setting the edge and shutting down opposing run games.
Kellie Rowe — Okudah
Jeff Okudah redemption season! There were safer picks here but I think Okudah figures it out in Year 2 and surprises some folks. You’re well aware he struggled in 2020, especially with the expectations that come with being a third overall pick. Cornerback is a position that takes a bit to get used to — especially with the massive jump in the caliber of receivers you’re now covering from college to the NFL. Aaron Glenn has proven he can develop young secondaries like he did in New Orleans.
Kyle Yost — Okwara
Even with some important personnel changes and a brand new coaching staff, this defense is still going to be bad. Okwara is a decent player, but his shine last year was largely due to the lack of anything else exciting around him. Expect that to be the case again this season. There should be more glimmers of hope, but Okwara is reliable and that is more than most of his peers can say.
John Whiticar — Flowers
The Lions defense should benefit from Aaron Glenn’s coaching, but it still seems like a work in progress. Right now, the lone strength of the Lions is the defensive line, and I still maintain that Trey Flowers is Detroit’s best player. Romeo Okwara put up the sack numbers, but Flowers is the more well-rounded defender, and therefore more valuable in my eyes. I have more faith in the defensive scheme, even if the shift to linebacker is new for Flowers. A change in philosophy from contain to actually rushing the passer should benefit Flowers. I don’t think he’s worth his contract, but he is still a focal point of the defense.
Jeremy Reisman — Okwara
I want to put Jeff Okudah so bad here, but, ultimately, I’m a coward. I think his jump comes in Year 3, though we’ll see signs of significant progress this year.
Okwara is the easy pick and, I believe, the right one. All offseason, I have noted how he looks even more dangerous than he did in his 10-sack season last year. I was validated last week when general manager Brad Holmes essentially said the exact same thing.
“Romeo looks even better after we paid him,” Holmes said. “And we felt good about him when we paid him. And now it’s like, ‘Wow, he’s really (good).’”
Unfortunately for opposing offenses, they won’t be able to just key in on him, because the Lions actually have pass rushing threats all over that defensive front.
Mike Payton — Derrick Barnes
Sometimes when you’re asked to make a prediction you have to stand at home plate and swing for the fences no matter what the pitch is. I’m going to swing really hard and say Derrick Barnes will captivate everyone and look like the biggest steal in the draft. I believe in him that much. Barnes has a big defensive year after taking over for Jamie Collins a couple weeks into the season and becomes the Lions’ next star player.
Chris Perfett — Okwara
Okwara has been pinballing between “whatever” and “pretty good” for a while. He’s got the chance to show what he’s capable of on the defensive line, where he’ll be the prime threat on the pass rush.
Who will be the Lions’ defensive MVP in 2021?
27 votes total