The Detroit Lions are just a year removed from the departure of Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and C.J. Mosley in the same offseason. Yet, the Lions find themselves in a strange conundrum: they have a surplus of talent again at the defensive tackle position. Detroit brought back starters Haloti Ngata and Tyrunn Walker on short-term contracts, but the biggest move was selecting A’Shawn Robinson in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Those three players are locks to make the roster, but for the remaining one or two roster spots, there will be an intense camp battle. Here’s a look at the competitors.
The case for Caraun Reid
The Lions’ fifth-round pick from 2014 has seen increased production in his two years with Detroit. In his rookie year, Reid barely made any impact on the field, totaling two tackles in 12 appearances. However, the Lions leaned on Reid heavily in 2015. According to MLive.com, Reid played over half the defensive snaps last season and had 29 total tackles and 2.0 sacks to show for it. Reid wasn’t fantastic last season (graded slightly negative according to Pro Football Focus), but he was able to handle an increased role and will only be 24 years old at the start of the regular season.
The case for Stefan Charles
Charles is the only player in this competition that was brought on specifically by general manager Bob Quinn. That obviously gives him a leg up, but Charles may justify a roster spot on his own. Though Charles has limited experience as a starter (two career starts), he has played in 37 games in his three-year career and notched 5.0 sacks along the way. The Buffalo Bills started to move away from Charles in 2015, but that may have been the result of a poor fit with new head coach Rex Ryan. Charles’ play hasn’t been outstanding, but it was good enough to catch Quinn’s eyes.
The case for Gabe Wright
Forget that Gabe Wright didn’t play in one game in the final seven weeks of his rookie season. Forget that even in the seven games he did manage to play in he only totaled six tackles and no sacks. Forget the Lions decided to sign Andre Fluellen midseason for the thirtieth time instead of giving Wright playing time. Gabe Wright has only been in the NFL one year and the Lions spent a fourth-round pick on him. Giving up on him this early would be considered premature by even the most impatient general managers.
Things may have gone bad in Gabe Wright’s rookie season (very bad, in fact) but there were some promising aspects to his game, too. That’s all you can really expect out of a mid-round rookie. Wright needs time.
Who has the advantage going into training camp?
Of the three players, it appears Reid is the most safe. He has significant experience with this defense and saw a huge jump in production in 2015. In fact, if Robinson shows he’s not quite ready to be the No. 3 DT in the rotation, Reid could possibly take over that job.
As for the two remaining tackles, I’d have to give the slight edge to Charles. Quinn’s motivation to sign the free agent could simply be to motivate Wright, but that remains to be seen. It also seems a bit unlikely given the size of Charles’ contract (one-year, $1.75 million with $550,000 guaranteed). Still, it would be shocking to see the Lions part ways with Wright only one year after grabbing him in the fourth round, even if it’s also a move Quinn would be completely unafraid to do.
This is a camp battle that has yet to be decided and will be one of the most entertaining to keep an eye on over the next month.