Lions 2019 draft preview: Despite offseason signings, Detroit still could be on edge
Allen Park — Over the next several days, leading up to the NFL draft, we’re taking a position-by-position look at the Detroit Lions’ roster and evaluating how the team might address each position. Today: Edge defenders.
► Current roster: Trey Flowers, Devon Kennard, Romeo Okwara, Eric Lee, Mitchell Loewen, Jonathan Wynn
► Short-term need: Seven out of 10
► Long-term need: Seven out of 10
► Top prospects: Nick Bosa, Josh Allen, Rashan Gary, Montez Sweat, Brian Burns
► Mid-round options: Jaylon Ferguson, Chase Winovich, L.J. Collier
► Late-round fits: Charles Omenihu, Ronheen Bingham, Oshane Ximines
The thing about edge rushers, no matter how many you have, you can always use more.
The Lions were unquestionably deficient in the area last season. Coach Matt Patricia and defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni schemed up what they could with the team's personnel, leading to a respectable 43 sacks, but according to the various sites that track total pressures, Detroit typically ranked near the bottom of the league.
Without the consistent threat of pressure, opposing quarterbacks were largely allowed to throw unencumbered, resulting in a 102.7 passer rating against and just seven interceptions. Both those numbers were bottom three in the NFL.
To address the issue, the Lions made a quick and bold addition in the free-agent market, signing defensive end Trey Flowers to a five-year, $90 million deal.
Flowers isn't flashy, but does plenty to start satisfying the Lions' need. Despite never recording more than 7.5 sacks in a season, the fundamentally sound and durable edge rusher has a knack for disrupting the pocket, tallying 64 total pressures in 2018, according to Pro Football Focus.
Flowers is likely to be paired opposite strongside linebacker Devon Kennard, Detroit's top free-agent addition from a year ago. He was a workhorse in 2018, playing more than 90 percent of the snaps in the 15 games he started.
The tandem will be backed up by Romeo Okwara, a waiver claim from a year ago who filled in admirably while Ziggy Ansah was sidelined with a shoulder injury. Okwara finished with a team-high 39 pressures, earning a two-year extension this offseason.
Combined, the trio tallied 22 sacks last season. That's decent, but if Detroit can find one more piece to add to the outside rush via the draft, a player who can regularly win one-on-one and finish, the defensive line has the potential to dominate when paired with the team's loaded interior.
That's why it's realistic, and some would even say probable, the Lions could draft a edge rusher in the first round, with the No. 8 pick. There figures to be a number of options at that spot, and a stylistic variety at that.
Michigan's Rashan Gary is a bigger-body option with top-tier athleticism and loads of untapped potential. Mississippi State's Montez Sweat brings a prototypical build, with long arms, track speed and SEC production. Florida State's Brian Burns, who already has added more than 20 pounds to his frame, is the speed rusher with a wicked inside spin move. And Clemson's Clelin Ferrell is the safest from the group, an all-around talent who is above-average at most things, but great at none.
If Detroit waits to Day 2, there's enough depth in this class that the team should still be able to find an early contributor.
TCU's L.J. Collier has had a good pre-draft process, starting with a strong performance at the Senior Bowl. At 283 pounds, he also offers the flexibility to slide inside in passing situations. And if you love high-effort players, few motors run hotter than Michigan's Chase Winovich.
In the late rounds, small-school standouts are primed for developmental roles. Ronheen Bingham didn't get a combine invite, but the undersized Arkansas State product showed plenty of pocket-disrupting ability in college. And Oshane Ximines, who earlier this year had been whispered as a potential first-round choice, could slide into Day 3 because of modest senior production and combine testing.
This draft offers an opportunity for the Lions to complete a remarkable, one-year 180 up front. General manager Bob Quinn nailed the rapid rebuilding of the line's interior last season by drafting Da'Shawn Hand and trading for Damon Harrison. If Quinn can snag a productive edge rusher in the draft to pair with the signing of Flowers, Detroit's front could suddenly become the defense's strength heading into 2019.