Back in early April, Detroit Lions general manager Bob Quinn joined MMQB’s Albert Breer to talk a little about the NFL Draft. There Quinn said something that surprised many Lions fans: He thought the Lions’ defensive line was a strength:
"I think the strengths are probably the offensive and defensive lines, I think we got a lot of depth on both levels," Quinn told Breer.
Not many would argue against Quinn’s statement about the offensive line. They had just grabbed T.J. Lang and Rick Wagner in free agency. But regarding his comments on the defensive line, many treated it simply as lip service, a smokescreen to conceal their true intentions for the draft.
Here’s Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press reacting to the quote:
The Lions have depth on the defensive line, as well, but also a glaring lack of playmakers that led to struggles against the run and pass last year.
But it appears Bob Quinn meant every word he said. Through the first five rounds of the NFL Draft, the Lions did not select a single offensive or defensive lineman. This is despite the 2017 draft sporting one of the deepest edge rusher classes in recent memory.
Detroit did add three new defensive linemen during the free agency period: defensive tackles Akeem Spence and Jordan Hill and defensive end Cornelius Washington. However, all three players of those players combined for just 2.5 sacks in 2016.
They also re-signed some of their own this year. Khyri Thornton, Kerry Hyder and Brandon Copeland will all be returning on short-term contracts. Combined with the new additions, that does look like a fairly deep set of players, but it also isn’t much different from the crew that only managed 26 sacks in 2016 (t-30th).
And there’s a concern right now as to not only how this unit will be better in 2017, but whether the team has any long-term answers along the front four. Just look at the current statuses of the Lions defensive linemen:
Ezekiel Ansah (27) — Signed through 2017
Armonty Bryant (26) — Signed through 2017
Brandon Copeland (25) — Signed through 2017
Kerry Hyder (25) — Signed through 2017
Pat O’Connor (23) — Rookie
Cornelius Washington (27) — Signed through 2018
Anthony Zettel (24) — Signed through 2019
Jordan Hill (26) — Signed through 2017
Jeremiah Ledbetter (22) — Rookie
Haloti Ngata (33) — Signed through 2017
A’Shawn Robinson (22) — Signed through 2019
Akeem Spence (25) — Signed through 2019
Khyri Thornton (27) — Signed through 2018
Just look at those defensive ends. The only players currently signed on for 2018 is recently free agent addition Cornelius Washington and last year’s sixth-round pick, Anthony Zettel. While it’s likely Ansah is re-signed, there is serious concern as to where the Lions will get a long-term option capable of playing opposite Ansah.
As for defensive tackles, it appears A’Shawn Robinson and Akeem Spence will be the mainstays for the next few years. The Lions haven’t had good play from their defensive tackles since Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley left in 2015, so it’s hard to see this as a downgrade over the past couple years, but the jury is still very much out on Robinson, who had a promising rookie year and Spence, who was one of the worst defensive tackles in 2016 according to Pro Football Focus.
So did Quinn really mean his statement before the draft, or did the board just not fall his way on draft day? It’s hard to know, but consider this: in the same podcast interview, Quinn also claimed the Lions were deep at cornerback. "I think we have great depth at corner and safety,” Quinn said. “I think we're going to have great competition at both those spots. We return all our corners and brought in D.J. Hayden."
Detroit proceeded to go out and grab two corners in the first five rounds of the draft.
Regardless, Quinn doubled down on his feelings about the defensive line after the draft. “I feel good,” Quinn said Saturday night. “Ziggy Ansah, Kerry Hyder, Cornelius Washington. Guys on the inside, A’Shawn (Robinson), Armonty Bryant, (Anthony) Zettel. I feel good.”