Draft gives Lions plenty of defensive end options
Allen Park — Over the next several days, leading up to the NFL draft, we’ll take a position-by-position look at the Detroit Lions’ roster situation and evaluate how the team might address these positions during the event. Today: Defensive ends.
Current roster: Ziggy Ansah, Kerry Hyder, Cornelius Washington, Armonty Bryant, Anthony Zettel and Brandon Copeland
Top prospects: Myles Garrett, Taco Charleton, Takk McKinley, Derek Barnett, Charles Harris
Mid-round fits: Tarell Basham, Carl Lawson, Daeshon Hall, Jordan Willis
Late-round options: Trey Hendrickson, Jeremiah Valoaga, Dawuane Smoot
Short-term need: 8 on a 1-to-10 scale
Long-term need: 9 on a 1-to-10 scale
Analysis: In a recent podcast interview, Lions general manager Bob Quinn called the team’s defensive line a strength.
From a depth perspective, the Lions have plenty of players capable of contributing on the edges, but there should be a legitimate concern about how the team will be able to generate a consistent pass rush.
In 2016, the Lions struggled to rattle opposing quarterbacks, finishing 31st in both sacks and hurries. With consistently clean pockets, opponents completed a league-best 72.7 percent of their passes.
If the team wants to have more success on defense, that’s got to change. Pass-rush pressure decreases efficiency and increases turnovers, another area where the Lions struggled last season.
Improvement will start with a healthy Ansah. A high ankle sprain sapped his effectiveness last season. He didn’t record his first sack until Week 15 and finished with just two in 13 games. If he can get back to the player he was in 2015, when he threatened the franchise’s single-season sack mark, it would change the complexion of the team’s issues.
The silver lining to Ansah’s ailing, was the emergence of Hyder. Earning a roster spot with an impressive offseason, he carried his success into the regular season, pacing the Lions with eight sacks. Whether he’s a starter or coming off the bench, he’s an important piece in 2017.
The rest of the projected rotation is a question mark. Washington, a low-cost, free-agent addition, has some potential and Detroit is hoping a scheme change will allow him to tap into it. And Zettel, a sixth-round pick last year, should be better with a year of experience under his belt.
But upgrading their edge defenders should be a draft priority for the Lions.
The first round is loaded with possibilities, but not all of them are obvious fits for the Lions. Guys like McKinley and Harris, despite showing pass-rush prowess in college, are undersized compared to what the Lions typically like up front.
Charlton, at 6-foot-6, 277 pounds, offers a frame more capable of holding up against the run, a prerequisite to play significant snaps opposite Ansah. Barnett’s frame is somewhere in between, and he’s certainly not the most athletic option, but it’s difficult to deny his production at Tennessee, where he posted double-digit sacks three straight years.
The middle rounds provide some additional big-body options. There’s Lawson, the stocky Auburn rusher who had a knack for disrupting the pocket. Rangy and athletic, Basham and Hall are also schematic fits.
In the early part of Day 3, the quick first step of former track star Smoot could provide a situational pass-rush boost while the rest of his game is developed. Hendrickson also offers nice burst off the snap and he showed impressive change-of-direction quickness at the combine.
Ideally, the Lions address this need early in the draft. While it would be best to get a well-rounded prospect to plug in on the edge, adding a flame-throwing, situational pass-rusher could still be a key addition.