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: defnesive tackles.
►Current roster: Damon Harrison, A’Shawn Robinson, Da’Shawn Hand, John Atkins
►Short-term need: Two out of 10
►Long-term need: Seven out of 10
►Top prospects: Quinnen Williams, Ed Oliver, Jeffery Simmons, Dexter Lawrence, Christian Wilkins
►Mid-round options: Dre'Mont Jones, Khalen Saunders, Chris Slayton
►Late-round fits: Renell Wren, Albert Huggins, Isaiah Buggs
What a difference a year makes.
At this point last offseason, the Lions were in major need of upgrades to the team's defensive interior. A'Shawn Robinson was returning, and the team had signed Sylvester Williams as a stopgap nose tackle, but the rest of the position group's makeup remained unsettled and uncertain.
General manager Bob Quinn ignored the position the first two rounds of last year's draft, but early on Day 3, he swung a trade with the New England Patriots, sending back Detroit's 2019 third-round pick to select Alabama's Da'Shawn Hand. The team further bolstered the unit just before training camp, signing veteran Ricky Jean Francois.
The selection of Hand turned out to be a home run. The rookie was highly productive, particularly flashing as a pass-rushing option inside. Coupled with Robinson taking to Detroit's new defensive scheme like a duck to water, and the Lions suddenly had a young, talented tandem to anchor the team's front.
But Quinn wasn't done. In one of the greatest coups from his time with the franchise, he sent a fifth-round pick to the New York Giants at the trade deadline for Damon "Snacks" Harrison, the premier run-stuffing nose tackle in football.
What had been a weakness months prior was the team's strength down the stretch and opponents found running against the Lions to be tough sledding.
Hand, Harrison and Robinson are all back in the fold for 2019, which bodes well for Detroit's ability to build upon last season's success. And while the team could use a fourth tackle to round out the depth chart, that trio is all capable of handling a healthy workload.
But taking a defensive tackle in the first-round can't be dismissed as a possibility, for multiple reasons. First, Robinson is set to be a free agent at season's end. Second, the team could face the enticing option of adding a player with a potentially dominant skill set in Ed Oliver, whose versatility could appeal to Lions coach Matt Patricia.
Given the depth of this class, the Lions could also easily find a solid contributor on Day 2. If Simmons slides, he would present teams with a difficult choice. First, he's recovering from an ACL tear, so his rookie season will essentially be a red-shirt year. Second, his next employer will have to be comfortable with character concerns, which includes a video of him striking a woman while breaking up a fight.
Beyond Simmons, Ohio State's Dre'Mont Jones or Syracuse's Chris Slayton offer long-limbed, productive options, while Western Illinois' Khalen Saunders is a high-ceiling prospect who could develop into an awesome talent with good coaching and development.
The Lions certainly have more-pressing needs, and signing Robinson to an extension would be the easiest way to solidify long-term security at the position, but the depth and talent of this prospect group could end up being too enticing to pass up.
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