Pass rusher a big need for Lions, but free-agent pool will be expensive
Allen Park — The Detroit Lions figure to have a lengthy shopping list this offseason, not that you'd expect anything less for a team that won just three games in 2019. Defensive needs figure to dominate general manager Bob Quinn's priorities, and it would be difficult to argue many are more pressing to address than pass rusher.
Pass-rush pressure is subjective, but no matter which metrics you trust, the Lions rank near the bottom of the league. The team is last in ESPN's pass-rush win rate, which measures how often at least one defender beat his block in 2.5 seconds or less. And the Lions check in at 29th and 30th in Football Outsiders' and Pro Football Reference's pressure rate measures.
That lack of pressure amounted to 28 sacks. Only the Miami Dolphins had fewer this season. The lack of pressure also directly contributed to an atrocious pass defense and the allowance of more than 26 points per game.
Asked how badly the Lions needed to add a capable pass rusher this offseason, Quinn acknowledged the need while also noting Detroit's defensive failures could also extend to inadequate coverage.
"Obviously, the more pass-rushers the better, right?" Quinn said. "You want to get after the quarterback. But I think we always talk about: Is it pass rush, or if the coverage is a little better, will the pass rush get there? So it’s always a combination – then you throw in: How many times are you going to blitz per game? So to answer your question, yes, always like another pass-rusher; those are hard to come by."
Quinn brings up a third variable: blitzing. Whether it's strictly scheme or playing to Detroit's personnel, the coaching staff was averse to sending extra rushers after the quarterback in both of Matt Patricia's seasons as the team's coach.
In 2018, the Lions blitzed on 16.9 percent of passing downs. That increased slightly last season to 18.8 percent, but still ranked 30th in the NFL. For contrast, the league-leading Baltimore Ravens blitzed 54.9 percent.
The Lions should have plenty of options to add pass-rushers in either free agency or the draft. Of course, signing one of the open market won't come cheap, as illustrated by the five-year, $90 million contract it took to lure Trey Flowers to Detroit last season.
But if Quinn is interested in going to that well again, the available options include Jadeveon Clowney, Yannick Ngakoue, Dante Fowler and Shaq Barrett, assuming they aren't hit with a franchise tag before the start of free agency.
The draft options are still coming into focus, with many juniors yet to declare. The obvious choice for rapid improvement would be Ohio State's Chase Young, but the expectation is he won't be available at No. 3, where the Lions are currently slated to select.
The next tier includes Iowa's A.J. Epenesa, Penn State's Yetur Gross-Matos, Boise State's Curtis Weaver and LSU's K'Lavon Chaisson.