PFF grades: Lions defensive rookies make big impression in preseason debut

Pride of Detroit

The Detroit Lions preseason got underway with a loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Friday. For the most part, though, these exhibitions have little to do with the points on the scoreboard when the clock hits zero. There are many observers who find a different set of numbers to be much more valuable after the game is over: Pro Football Focus’ player grades.

Let’s take a look at how the Detroit Lions’ defense fared in their first bit of preseason action according to PFF.

Defensive Interior

Top score: Alim McNeill (68.0)
Low score: Jashon Cornell (29.9)

Given the success of the Falcons’ rushing attack—29 rushing attempts for 168 yards—it isn’t surprising to see the low scores among the interior defensive linemen. Jashon Cornell and Isaiah Buggs were two of the five Lions defenders PFF charged with a missed tackle on Friday and only one player from this position group was able to generate a pressure: Eric Banks.

EDGE

Top score: Aidan Hutchinson (88.0)
Low score: Charles Harris (48.9)

There seemed to be a positive thing to be said about Hutchinson on all 11 plays he was on the field for against Atlanta. PFF’s grade placing him among Detroit’s top three defenders against Atlanta reflects his consistent effort and impact. Hutchinson’s tackle for a loss on Qadree Ollison, the holding penalty he drew on Chris Lindstrom, and chasing down Marcus Mariota to the sideline were just a few highlights that all happened on the rookie’s first drive.

Linebackers

Top score: Josh Woods (91.0)
Low score: Jarrad Davis (44.8)

Without presumed starter Alex Anzalone in the lineup, the Lions were able to see plenty of snaps from the linebackers looking to stick with the roster for better—and worse.

Josh Woods, along with Shaun Dion Hamilton and Anthony Pittman respectively, earned the top three grades among linebackers and three of the five highest grades on the entire defense—and rookie Malcolm Rodriguez was not far behind with the seventh-best grade by a Lions defender. Jarrad Davis and Anthony Pittman combined for six of the 14 total quarterback pressures generated by Detroit’s defense on Friday.

Cornerbacks

Top score: Chase Lucas (91.5)
Low score: AJ Parker (39.3)

Chase Lucas didn’t play a whole lot in the preseason opener—just 12 snaps total and only six on defense, where he lined up primarily in the slot—but PFF liked what they saw in his limited action. He was one of three Lions cornerbacks to record a pass breakup according to PFF’s data. PFF also earmarked Bobby Price as one of the most picked-on of the group, giving up three receptions on three targets for 33 yards—he did, however, earn credit for forcing a fumble, but missed out on recording an interception when Jarrad Davis was flagged for roughing the passer.

Safeties

Top score: DeShon Elliott (70.7)
Low score: Kerby Joseph (47.8)

Two newcomers to Detroit’s secondary earned high and low honors for their play. Joseph saw a team-high 42 snaps, so defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant and safeties coach Brian Duker have plenty of tape to review with the third-round rookie. If there’s a positive spin you’re looking for with Joseph, he earned PFF’s top honors for tackling among Detroit’s defenders. He also lined up just about everywhere for Detroit, logging snaps in the box, at free safety, and in the slot, so it’s clear the Lions want to not only get him acclimated to the many responsibilities a safety can have in this defense, but also see where he’s best suited to contribute given the depth at the position.

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