Devin Taylor poised to bookend with Ansah on D-line

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News
DE Devin Taylor - The Lions will tell you Taylor was a more consistent run defender, but he had almost no impact as a pass rusher, recording 4.5 sacks and 10 hurries in his first season as a starter. GRADE: D

Devin Taylor was a healthy scratch in Week 2 of 2015.

Now, as the Lions prepare for 2016, he’s the odds-on favorite to be the starting defensive end opposite Ziggy Ansah.

Despite sitting out the second game of last season, Taylor became the Lions’ second-most productive defensive end last year, finishing with more tackles, tackles for loss and sacks than starter Jason Jones. And all seven of Taylor sacks and his nine tackles for loss came in the final 14 games as he looked worthy of handling a bigger role in the future.

“I think he’s capable,” coach Jim Caldwell said of Taylor at NFL annual meetings last month. “I think you look at him, he’s improved. He’s a better player last year than he had been the previous year. He’s a better player that year than he was the year before that.

“This guy, he doesn’t talk much, he works at it, and he’s also a guy that’s got some intestinal fortitude. So, I think all of those things lend to a guy that could certainly … play a little bit bigger role in the things that we do.”

The Lions agreed to terms with former Bengals defensive end Wallace Gilberry on Monday, and the 31-year-old will compete for playing time. The team could also spend a high draft pick on a defensive end, especially considering it’s a premium position where they have just three players at the moment.

But, considering how hard it is for some rookies to adjust to the NFL, Taylor will remain atop the depth chart until someone passes him.

DE Wallace Gilberry set to join Lions

Of course, the expectation after each of Taylor’s first two seasons was that he’d contribute more, but it hasn’t exactly worked that way. After showing promise as a rookie backup behind Ansah and Jones, Taylor ended up losing his spot in the rotation in 2014 with the emergence of veteran backups George Johnson and Darryl Tapp.

Taylor flashed more potential during the 2015 offseason, crediting offseason workouts with Tapp that he’s doing again this year. The Lions had five defensive ends active Week 1, and Taylor had four sacks. But in Week 2, the team had four ends active, and Tapp and Phillip Hunt were the backups ahead of Taylor.

From that point on, though, Taylor continued to prove himself and soon became the top backup who earned the trust of the coaches.

“All these guys are very competitive; all these guys have a lot of pride,” Caldwell said about Taylor being a healthy scratch. “I don’t think that was necessarily a knock against him or something that propelled him, unless he tells you that.”