Allen Park — After addressing the team’s biggest needs on offense via free agency, the Detroit Lions are still in need of some defensive upgrades.
ESPN analyst Todd McShay addresses that in his latest mock draft, having the Lions select Missouri defensive end Charles Harris with the 21st pick in the first round.
“A twitchy athlete off the edge, Harris is just scratching the surface as a pass-rusher,” McShay writes. “He led the SEC with 18.5 tackles for loss in 2015 and finished this past season on a tear (5.5 sacks, six quarterback hurries and a forced fumble in his final four games). Ezekiel Ansah can’t be the only pass-rushing threat in Detroit.”
After finishing near the bottom of the league in quarterback sacks and hurries in 2016, the Lions could certainly use an upgrade coming off the edge. The team is returning three players — Ansah, Anthony Zettel and 2016 sack leader Kerry Hyder. They also added Cornelius Washington in free agency, but the 280-pounder has recorded only three sacks in his four-year career.
Harris is an ascending talent who picked up football late, first playing as a junior in high school. But the 6-foot-3, 253-pounder thrived at Missouri, where the scheme had him focus on getting after the quarterback.
With a lightning-quick first step, Harris set up camp in opposing backfields, tallying 16 sacks and 30 tackles for loss over the past two years.
“I got here by sacking the quarterback. That’s not a secret,” Harris said at the combine last month. “So I feel like most teams are going play me how I’m supposed to get played. That’s me getting the quarterback, me covering when I need to cover, and when it’s necessary, me playing special teams.”
Harris is the latest in a line of pass rushers churned out by Missouri, including a number of early-round picks who have had success in recent years. Aldon Smith was a star before off-field problems brought his career to a halt. Markus Golden and Shane Ray combined for 20.5 sacks last season, while Kony Ealy averaged five in three seasons with Carolina before an offseason trade to New England.
“That’s why I developed so quickly, because I had Shane Ray, I had Markus Golden, I had Kony Ealy. I had those guys telling me every single day in practice,” Harris said. “Missouri ‘D-line Zoo,’ it’s just different.
“If you do good, you’re going get applauded for it. If you do bad, we’re going get you. In the film room, we’re going talk about you. We’re going make you feel it, not doubt. So just having that type of open environment where you can be honest with somebody about the way they’re playing, about the physicality of how they’re playing, about what they need to get better at, just really allows other players to come in and develop.”
Also in his latest mock draft, McShay has the Buffalo Bills selecting former Western Michigan wide receiver Corey Davis at No. 10, and the Seattle Seahawks taking former Michigan State defensive lineman Malik McDowell at No. 26.
He has former Michigan defensive end Taco Charlton heading to the Dallas Cowboys at No. 28, but former Michigan standout Jabrill Peppers out of the first round.