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Football Outsiders: Good chance Ezekiel Ansah’s sack numbers return in 2017

Football Outsiders takes an optimistic look at Ziggy’s 2016 season.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

So far, in our conversation with Football Outsiders’ Scott Kacsmar, we’ve tackled the topic of regression, the Lions’ running game and how Eric Ebron will adjust to the loss of Anquan Boldin. But we’ve been avoiding a topic, and for good reason.

The Detroit Lions defense ranked dead last in Football Outsiders’ DVOA in 2016, and heading into 2017, it is one of the biggest question marks surrounding the team. Regardless of what ESPN’s Power Rankings may say, the Lions attacked the defense heavily during the offseason, spending several resources both in free agency and the 2017 NFL Draft.

But will it be enough for the Lions to turn an awful defense into, at least, a mediocre one? That’s what I wanted to figure out from Kacsmar.

Jeremy: The Lions added a lot of NFL castaways on defense this offseason (DJ Hayden, Paul Worrilow, Akeem Spence). Which of those do you think has the best chance at helping turn around the worst defense in 2016 by DVOA?

Scott: I think Worrilow is someone who could make a lot of tackles in this defense, but he’s unlikely to turn into a star at this stage of his career. I’m not sold that DJ Hayden is even better than Quandre Diggs, though he wouldn’t be the first corner drafted in the first round to turn in a solid career after going to a second team.

Jeremy: The Lions defense was dinked and dunked to death in 2016. With an overhaul at linebacker and an emphasis on nickel corner, can the Lions turn it around in a year? Do you see any hope for an improved pass rush to help out?

Scott: Getting a full season out of Ezekiel Ansah would sure help. In fewer than 500 snaps, he had 22 hurries, but only 2.0 sacks last year. A split like that usually is a good sign for sack improvement the following year. I don’t think the defense is talented enough to make a jump into the top 10, but even just a move up to mediocrity would help the team.

Thanks to Scott Kacsmar and Football Outsiders for answering all of our questions this week. I truly mean it when I say I have the highest amount of respect for the work they do over there. That is why I fully endorse purchasing their 2017 Football Outsiders Almanac. There you’ll find the most thorough team previews I’ve ever seen, along with statistical analysis you won’t find anywhere else.

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