Lions 2020 draft preview: Right pieces could buttress offseason additions, holdovers at defensive tackle

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

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

Auburn's Derrick Brown is considered one of the top defensive tackle prospects in the NFL Draft.

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. 

South Carolina's Javon Kinlaw

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.

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

Previous installments

Lions 2020 draft preview: The right rookie could be key piece in renovated offensive line

Lions 2020 draft preview: Options to help Detroit's paltry pass rush come with concerns

Lions 2020 draft preview: ​​​​​​Speed, brutality available for Detroit at running back

Lions 2020 draft preview: Here are top cornerback options if Detroit doesn't get Jeff Okudah