Lions’ DeAndre Levy selected 59th-best NFL player in poll

DeAndre Levy finished with a career-best 119 tackles last season, which ranked 22nd overall in the league.

Andrew Weber

Breakout seasons aren’t always immediately recognized.

It often takes time for reflection, if not another year of performance to prove to others that a player is for real.

Detroit Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy was deserving of a Pro Bowl invite last season, but he didn’t get it.

However, his fellow players rewarded him this offseason when they selected Levy as the 59th-best player in the NFL in a poll conducted by the NFL Network.

"It was cool," Levy said. "It’s always a good honor to be respected by your peers. I think that’s something all of us strive for."

I think he’s just kind of scratching the surface of what he can be.

Jim Caldwell on DeAndre Levy

Levy is one of five Lions to make this year’s top-100. Quarterback Matthew Stafford was No. 100, running back Reggie Bush No. 85 and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh No. 40.

Receiver Calvin Johnson’s ranking will be announced Wednesday night when the NFL Network releases the top-10 beginning at 9 p.m.

Many analysts wondered whether the Lions would even re-sign Levy a year ago when both he and the team’s other outside linebacker, Justin Durant, both became unrestricted free agents at the same time.

Some thought Durant was the more likely of the two to stay, but he ended up signing with Dallas after Detroit chose to bring back Levy instead on a three-year deal worth nearly $10 million.

Levy quickly showed the Lions made the right decision when he emerged as one of the team’s top playmakers on defense.

He finished tied for second in the league with six interceptions, one more than he had in his first four seasons combined.

Levy’s experience — 66 starts now in five years — paid off because he was often in the right place at the right time.

"I try to just trust my instincts a little bit," Levy said. "Some of those (interceptions) I got just by being around the ball."

Levy also finished with a career-best 119 tackles, which ranked second on the team behind middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch, and 22nd overall in the league.

The upcoming season is an opportunity for Levy to confirm that he really is for real and not just a one-year wonder.

"I think he’s just kind of scratching the surface of what he can be," coach Jim Caldwell said. "He’s a talented guy, he’s smart, he works hard. I think you’re going to continue to see him grow and develop."

Levy, a third-round draft pick by the Lions in 2009 coming out of Wisconsin, previously was known best for his caveman-like beard. He’s going on two years without shaving although he has trimmed it up a bit at times.

Now, however, the secret is out and his performance on the field is drawing attention, too.

Nevertheless, seven outside linebackers — Arizona’s John Abraham, San Francisco’s Ahmad Brooks, Kansas City’s Tamba Hali and Justin Houston, Indianapolis’ Robert Mathis, Washington’s Brian Orakpo and Baltimore’s Terrell Suggs — made the Pro Bowl while Levy didn’t.

Mathis (No. 19), Suggs (No. 26), Hali (No. 43) and Houston (No. 57) were also ranked ahead of him in the recent player poll, but Abraham, Brooks and Orakpo didn’t even crack the top-100.

With another strong performance in 2014, Levy should get that much-deserved Pro Bowl bid, albeit a year late.

"I don’t really make goals like that," Levy said. "My goal is always to come out here and get better and just try to work and push myself. That’s something I think I focused on more last year. Hopefully, I can continue to improve and help the team win."

If he does, there shouldn’t be another snub, not after being validated by his peers as one of the game’s top 60 players.