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Where the Lions 2017 roster stands: Who will step up at defensive end?

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The Lions’ defensive end depth chart looks bleak.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Indianapolis Colts Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

In the weeks leading up to Detroit Lions training camp, we’re going to do a position-by-position breakdown of where the roster stands. Our series continues with the Lions defensive ends.

(The final year of each player’s contract is listed in parentheses.)

Starters: Ezekiel Ansah (2017), ???

Backups: Kerry Hyder Jr. (2017) , Cornelius Washington (2018), Armonty Bryant (2017)

On the bubble: Brandon Copeland (2017), Anthony Zettel (2019), Pat O’Connor (2020)

Long shots: Alex Barrett (2019), Jeremiah Valoaga (2019)

Overview

Yikes. This Lions’ defensive end depth chart is easily the weakest on the entire roster. At this point, there is no clear starter opposite Ezekiel Ansah, and the outlook is even more bleak now that Armonty Bryant has received a four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. This is Bryant’s third suspension in two years, making him a risk to keep on the roster. In fact, 76 percent of Lions fans think Detroit should cut ties with the troubled defensive end.

But the Lions may not have the depth to afford such a move. The Lions did add Cornelius Washington in the offseason, and while the former Bear will likely perform better now that he’s playing in a much more apt 4-3 system, this is still a player that only has two career starts in four years.

The other candidate to break out in 2017 and take over the left defensive end role is Kerry Hyder. Hyder enjoyed an extremely promising season in 2016, tallying 8.0 sacks in 16 games appearances and two starts. Though he finished the season with just one sack in the final seven games, he actually seemed to provide more consistent pressure as the season went on. At this point, he has to be considered the favorite to take over Devin Taylor’s role as Detroit’s starting left end.

Need going forward?

The only thing more troubling than the Lions’ current defensive end situation is the future of the position. Among locks to make the roster in 2017, only Washington is signed beyond this season.

Detroit does have a few young defensive ends they hope will develop. Last year’s sixth-round pick Anthony Zettel and this year’s seventh-round pick Pat O’Connor could develop into meaningful rotational players, but it seems unlikely that either will become the team’s starter.

That means Detroit’s biggest need is a defensive end that can take over the majority of snaps, especially on the left side. The Lions face an important decision with Ansah next offseason, presuming Detroit doesn’t decide to extend him this year. There haven’t been many talks about extending Ansah yet, mostly because he only truly has one full season of excellent production, but also because many are assuming re-signing Matthew Stafford is the team’s top priority this offseason. As the team’s four-year starter, Ansah has shown flashes of being one of the premier pass rushers in the league. However, injuries and inconsistency have raised questions about his true value. Given Detroit’s desperation, it seems likely the Lions will offer a fair extension to the 28-year-old.

Even if the Lions do re-sign Ansah, expect them to add several ends through the draft and free agency in 2018.

Poll

Who will start the most games at left defensive end for the Lions in 2017?

This poll is closed

  • 66%
    Kerry Hyder Jr.
    (684 votes)
  • 1%
    Armonty Bryant
    (20 votes)
  • 24%
    Cornelius Washington
    (246 votes)
  • 0%
    Brandon Copeland
    (7 votes)
  • 6%
    Anthony Zettel
    (68 votes)
1025 votes total Vote Now

Previously: Quarterbacks, wide receivers, running backs, tight ends, offensive tackles, offensive guards, centers