As we start to look ahead to training camp, we're going to take a position-by-position look at the Detroit Lions roster. Next up is the defensive end position. (The final year of each player's contract is listed in parentheses.)
Set starter: Ezekiel Ansah (2017), Devin Taylor (2016)
Backup: Wallace Gilberry (2016), Brandon Copeland (2016)
On the bubble: Anthony Zettel (2019)
Long shot: Deonte Gibson (2018)
The Detroit Lions have their two clear starters in Ezekiel Ansah and Devin Taylor, but everything beyond their starters is anything but clear. Gone are the days of Jason Jones and Darryl Tapp in the defensive rotation. Instead, the Lions swooped up eight-year veteran Wallace Gilberry and transitioned former linebacker Brandon Copeland back to his college position at defensive end. Gilberry has been somewhat productive as a rotational player, but his best days are at least two seasons removed. Copeland, on the other hand, is entering just his fourth season in the NFL, first as a defensive end. In college, Copeland totaled 26.5 tackles for loss in his four year career at defensive end with the Pennsylvania Quakers.
The Lions also have a pair of rookies rounding out the depth chart. Anthony Zettel was taken in the sixth round and has experience as defensive tackle. However, his size is a better fit as an end in the NFL. Zettel has displayed some amazing athletic abilities in online videos, but he’ll have to make a splash in training camp to land on the squad.
Deonte Gibson will have to overcome the plight of the undrafted rookie free agent to maintain his job as a Detroit Lions player. The former Northwestern Wildcat had 12.5 tackles for loss and nine sacks in his senior year. Though Gibson was part of a truly dominant defense in college, his lack of size makes a transition to the NFL difficult for the rookie. Many actually projected him to make the switch to linebacker due to his small stature, but with the Lions shorthanded at defensive end, it opens up a tiny opportunity for Gibson as an end.
Need going forward?
Though the Lions appear to have their two starters and two backups, they could use a little more certainty in their lineup. They will be starting Devin Taylor, who despite playing over half the snaps last year, only has two career starts in his three-year career. One of their backups has never played defensive end in the NFL and the other is on the wrong side of 30. I would be very surprised if the Lions didn’t have an additional end on their roster by the start of Week 1.