The Detroit Lions defensive lineman accounted for 35 sacks this past season. The team ranked 22nd against the pass, 23rd versus the run, and 23rd overall. The number that ultimately matters most is points allowed per game. The Lions gave up 24.2 ppg, a number many didn't expect heading into the 2011 campaign.
Clearly, the Lions need to address the defense this offseason. Debates abound regarding the unit that should garnish the most attention heading into free agency and the draft, but the sentiment seems to be that the defensive line remains our most reliable asset.
Kyle Vanden Bosch is 33 years old, and while arguments suggesting his release are preposterous, he isn't getting any younger. Some suggest Ndamukong Suh had a down year by his standards, but the fact remains that he's a dominant force whose absence was felt in his two missed games. Corey Williams will be 32 when the season begins, and began to show signs of aging as the season progressed.
As far as depth is concerned, Willie Young and Lawrence Jackson (when healthy), were promising. Each guy is more than capable of getting to the quarterback, and the Lions are fortunate that both players provide depth if the Lions decide the price tag for Cliff Avril is just too high.
Sammie Lee Hill is a RFA, and will be back. Hill is a run stopping hog that further validates Mayhew's ability to add value through the later rounds of the draft (Hill was a 4th round selection, and Young a 7th round pick). The Lions also have Andre Fluellen, a (cough) Matt Millen draft pick.
Nick Fairley may have the most potential of any Detroit Lions defensive lineman. There were moments this past season (both Saints games), where I found myself just saying, "wow." Whether or not Avril is retained will have an impact on the effectiveness and depth of the Lions pass rush, but if he were to leave, the Lions still have a formiddable front four.
Let's now examine potential sleepers (rounds 3-7 or beyond), along the defensive line in this year's draft.
Defensive Line Sleepers
Billy Winn - DE - Boise State - 6'3 296 lbs. - Projected 3rd round selection
Winn could easily push himself into the 2nd round with a solid effort at the combine, but for now, let's assume he's a 3rd round selection. Winn has what the Lions love; a great motor, relentless pursuit, and is violent with his hands. I recommend watching some video of Winn. He maintains a low center of gravity through the rush, and has a high grade bull rush.
Cam Johnson - DE - Virginia - 6'4 267 lbs. - Projected 3rd round selection
I love Cam Johnson. Simply put, I think he's going to be an excellent pro end. Brad Noel's scouting report on Johnson is excellent.
"Tremendous explosion, accelerates low with power. Relentless blindside pursuit, tracks down ball carriers on the other side of the field. Fast in a straight line. Excellent wide and bull rushes when quick off the snap. Strong tackler. Has good power in hands and can anchor, shed, and chase."
Johnson should garnish quite a bit of attention as we head closer to the draft.
Malik Jackson - DE - Tennessee - 6'5 270 lbs. - Projected 4th round selection
Jackson had a tremendous season for the Vols, leading them in tackles for loss (11), sacks (2.5), and QB hurries (10) (cbssports). I love players that come from the battle tested SEC. Jackson isn't a polished product, but for a 4th round selection could develop into something. (Think Willie Young).
Donte Moss - DE - North Carolina - 6'4 260 lbs. - Projected 6th round selection
The few times I caught North Carolina this season, Moss stood out. Lining up up opposite Quinton Coples certainly opened the door for few double teams, but he still displayed an abillity to get to the quarterback with athleticism, strength, and solid footwork. Moss certainly displays power on the edge, and is capable dropping into coverage as well. Character concerns are part of the reason his stock is down, and he likely could have used another year at Carolina. With that said, someone could find a player that sticks in the later rounds who has a high ceiling - my criteria for drafting a guy late.
Darius Nall - DE - UCF - 6'3 246 lbs.- Projected 7th round selection or undrafted rookie FA
Nall is undersized, but so is Cameron Wake. I love his speed off the edge. He displays great burst, and a motor that doesn't stop until the quarterback is lying on the ground. In 2010 Nall had 8.5 sacks and 14 QB hurries.
James Brooks - DE - North Alabama - 6'5 278 lbs. - Projected 7th round selection or undrafted rookie FA
Brooks is a transfer from Arizona State that left for personal reasons. I'll admit I'm not going on much other than a few videos, but he demonstrates great use of hands, a violent pursuit, and a sound bull rush. Brooks also appears to possess the prototypical body for a defensive end. Brooks will likely be overlooked, and could be a great free agent signing after the draft.
By: Dustin J Quarrella