Whether or not the Detroit Lions do not secure a defensive end this offseason, they need to address the defensive tackle position as well. The team had no interior pass rush for all of 2016 and the few times they got something going it was always short lived. The team didn’t even really have any ‘starting’ defensive tackles in 2016, with five different players starting games and a sixth who received enough snaps to qualify at least once. The team had no ability to collapse a pocket, and while they were stout at times against the run, it fell apart completely to close out the season culminating in a whipping by Thomas Rawls in the playoffs.
Under Contract 2017: Haloti Ngata, A’Shawn Robinson, Khyri Thornton (ERFA)
Pending Free Agents: Tyrunn Walker, Stefan Charles
A’Shawn Robinson, aside from the Seattle game, showed an ability to keep running lanes secure while disrupting passing lanes on occasion. He still hasn’t been able to develop as a pass rusher, however, and judging by his time at Alabama, I’m not sure I expect him to. That’s not really his role in Detroit, though, and it isn’t a big concern. What is a concern is getting someone who can penetrate through an offensive line and wreak havoc. Haloti Ngata was that at times, but his age and consistency cannot be relied upon. Khyri Thornton was alright in a rotational role, but was unable to build on a hot start coming out of the preseason. Neither of the team’s pending free agents should be considered for return, even on prove it deals, and the team needs to look for a starting caliber player rather than a rotational piece.
Free Agents Available
Dontari Poe, Kawann Short, Stephen Paea, Karl Klug
Like the defensive end class, the DT class looks very promising at the top. Unfortunately, I do not expect Kansas City to part ways with Dontari Poe and a disruptive monster like that is going to be both difficult and expensive to acquire. Kawann Short is a top tier interior rusher only a year removed from his Pro Bowl 2015 season where he had 11 sacks. He’ll be difficult to pry away from Carolina, but he’d be the exact type of player the Lions need. If the team doesn’t opt for a top tier free agent, former Chicago Bears nose tackle and now journeyman Stephen Paea could be had for pretty cheap due to consistency and injury issues. Karl Klug is coming off a torn Achilles tendon, which may wreck his ability to be disruptive inside, but would be a cheap option to use on passing downs if the team goes for a more developmental draft pick rather than going for an immediate starter.
Caleb Brantley, Malik McDowell
The defensive tackle class of 2017 took a bit of a hit when Lowell Lotulelei decided to return to Utah for another season. He wasn’t the best of this class, but it’s hard to see much in the way of top tier talent outside of the other two I’m naming here. Caleb Brantley would remind Lions fans of Nick Fairley immediately on the field (thankfully not off of it), as he’s an incredible talent who can crash into a backfield instantly and wreck shop. Unfortunately, he spends most of the time just kind of existing on the field and not doing much, a level of consistency that becomes frustrating very quickly. I have never been more familiar with a player than I am with Malik McDowell, who I first scouted during his high school days at Southfield. He would later move on to Loyola before attending MSU, where he became one of the best defensive lineman in the nation. He’s easily one of the most gifted athletes in this draft class and has found consideration as an end as well as tackle. I for one don’t care where he plays, but think he’d be a perfect closed end or interior rusher in Teryl Austin’s system. Should Austin move on, McDowell could fit in nearly any other system, it’s just a matter of where.
Level of Need
The team only has three defensive tackles under contract for 2017, assuming Haloti Ngata does not retire. To be frank, Ngata’s decision to continue playing should have no bearing on the Lions moves at defensive tackle, as it’s a massive need at a position lacking talent. A’Shawn Robinson developed into a pretty good run defending tackle, but that won’t be enough if there is no one there to capitalize on him eating up blockers. The team needs someone who can beat an interior lineman straight up, and presently there is no one on the roster who can do that consistently. Due to availability, this is probably an early draft target, but not one they can count on for depth if they miss on early talent. It’s a fairly deep class, but not a spectacular one.
Previously covered needs: