Allen Park — Over the next several days, leading up to the 2020 NFL Draft, we’re taking a position-by-position look at the Detroit Lions’ roster and evaluating how the team might address each unit. Today: Defensive tackle.
► Current roster: Da'Shawn Hand, Danny Shelton, Nick Williams, Kevin Strong, John Atkins, Frank Herron, Matt Nelson
► Short-term need: Eight out of 10
► Long-term need: Nine out of 10
► Top prospects: Derrick Brown, Javon Kinlaw, Ross Blacklock, Justin Madubuike
► Mid-round options: Jordan Elliott, Leki Fotu, DaVon Hamilton
► Late-round fits: Raekwon Davis, Rashard Lawrence
► Analysis: For the Lions, no position group has received more of a facelift this offseason than the interior of the defensive line.
The team parted ways with the starting tandem of Damon Harrison and A'Shawn Robinson, and appear on the same course with last year's hired gun Mike Daniels. After a season plagued by injury, he remains a free agent. The team has since replaced Harrison and Robinson with a pair of cheaper alternatives coming off solid 2019 seasons.
Danny Shelton didn't need any introduction as a former first-round pick. The behemoth 345-pounder hasn't managed to live up to where he was drafted, but 2019 was his best year, recording 61 tackles and 3.0 sacks for the Patriots.
The other addition, Nick Williams, is more of an unknown. After barely keeping his football career afloat for six years, including a full season on the unemployment line in 2017, Williams put it all together while playing major snaps as an injury replacement in Chicago last season. The 6-foot-4, 310-pounder more than tripled his career tackle numbers in 2019, while racking up 6.0 sacks.
Shelton and Williams join oft-injured Da'Shawn Hand and a cast of young, unproven options, keeping the Lions in the market to upgrade a position that was supposed to be the defense's strength a year ago.
Looking at the longer view, Shelton and Williams are both on two-year deals with minimal dead money attached to that second season if the Lions want to go a different direction.
The top two names in this draft class, Brown and Kinlaw, should both appeal to Detroit, but probably wouldn't come into play without trading down from their current No. 3 slot. Brown is the more well-rounded of the two — a physically dominant run-defender who swallows up ball carriers like a black hole. Kinlaw is long with a lightning-quick first step, which allows him to be a steady source of backfield disruption.
But if Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah is on the board, regardless of where the Lions pick, they are assuredly leaning that direction. The cornerback position is simply more valuable.
On the second day of the draft, the Lions should still be able to address the need with a quality option. Madubuike, who Pro Football Focus compares to Patriots defender Malcom Brown, is a little on the lighter side at 293 pounds, but plays with a well-rounded skill set.
Elliott, out of Missouri, isn't the same type of athlete as Madubuike, but is a little bigger, and his impressive 10-yard split while running the 40-yard dash reinforces his ability to explode out of his stance.
Hamilton and Fotu project to be more traditional run-stuffing nose tackles. Either could complement Shelton in the rotation during their rookie years, while being groomed to be a low-cost replacement in 2021 if Shelton is unable to sustain his production from a year ago.
In the later rounds, the Lions could look at Davis for a bargain. The team has never hid its love for Alabama products and the schematic similarities between the defenses make for a smooth transition for trench players.
Once considered a first-round talent, Davis struggled to recapture the dominance he displayed as a sophomore in 2017.