Preseason football is a time to carve out some certainty when it comes to figuring out a football team, but when injuries occur, we’re often left with more questions than answers. Injuries to any player, no matter the severity, tend to cast a cloud over any of the highlights of preseason action.
For the Detroit Lions, their first major injury just so happened to come at a position where the team was already paper thin.
Kerry Hyder’s Achilles injury in the Lions preseason matchup against the Indianapolis Colts put a damper on what was an overall impressive performance by Detroit’s defensive line. After all, the Lions had three of Pro Football Focus’ four highest-graded edge defenders in the NFC North for Week 1 of the preseason, and all three of them are part of the Lions youth movement along the defensive line—Jeremiah Valoaga, Alex Barrett, and Pat O’Connor are all rookies:
Three Lions were among the top four highest graded edge defenders in the NFC North last week, but it was a Viking who led the way pic.twitter.com/DguzMaNiAh— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) August 16, 2017
In the Lions second preseason game against the New York Jets, Detroit was happy to see Cornelius Washington finally make his debut—probably much happier than Christian Hackenberg was. But with the good comes the bad, and Detroit’s rookie edge defenders didn’t have the kind of follow-up performance that would suggest the team has something tangible they can count on come the regular season.
Detroit is in a unique position, one that they haven’t found themselves in a long, long time: No longer is the team desperate for other teams’ leftovers. GM Bob Quinn, in just two seasons, has drastically overhauled the roster, and in the process, curated enough depth at positions where other teams are waiting to see what doesn’t stick in Detroit.
With that being said, this roster isn’t save from improvement and even Bob “I’m always looking to upgrade” Quinn would agree. One area where Detroit could absolutely use some more talent, especially after the loss of Hyder, is along the defensive line.
Late Tuesday evening, an intriguing option has made his way into the free agency pool in former Cleveland Browns veteran Desmond Bryant.
Who is Desmond Bryant, and what did he do?
Bryant played his college football at Harvard and was an undrafted free agent from the 2009 NFL Draft class. He earned a spot with the Oakland Raiders and played well enough to belong on an NFL roster, totaling 124 tackles and 10.5 sacks during his four seasons in the bay.
His play earned him a five year, $34 million dollar contract from the Browns during free agency in 2013, and Bryant continued to be productive into the first three years of the deal—racking up 113 tackles and 14.5 sacks. He missed the entirety of the 2016 season with a torn pectoral muscle he suffered during offseason weightlifting, and the Browns decided to cut ties with him on Tuesday, saving $3 million dollars in the process.
With all of the talent Cleveland added this offseason, a rehabbing, 31-year-old Bryant found himself on the outside looking in:
I thought the Browns would need Bryant this season, but the emergence of Coley and (presumably) the trust in Meder for depth must have given the coaching staff confidence to roll with the youth. Remember that the club also drafted Larry Ogunjobi and Caleb Brantley this year, so when you factor in Shelton, that’s five defensive tackles poised to make the 53-man roster.
As recently as the beginning of August, Bryant was practicing with the first-team defense, and doesn’t seem to be behind when it comes to conditioning, or the injury that cost him his 2016 season.
What Bryant can do for Detroit
Bryant presents an opportunity for the Lions to immediately upgrade along the defensive line. During his time in Cleveland, Bryant moved all over the defensive front, playing both inside and outside for the Browns, and his versatility in doing so makes him the type of player Quinn covets.
Good guy Erik Schlitt of Lions Wire developed his Quinn Influenced Benchmarks formular—or QIB. It’s a system designed to give readers a peek behind the curtain at how athletic traits are identified by the Lions. When it comes to athletic traits, Bryant qualifies for what Quinn and even Teryl Austin look for in their defensive linemen:
Bryant’s short-area burst and quickness—1.67 10-yard split and 4.45 short shuttle time—makes him a full QIB qualifier according to Schlitt should he line up at defensive tackle. He falls a bit short when it comes to measuring up at defensive end, but he has the versatility to play outside in a certain capacity here in Detroit.
For the Lions, Bryant could best be utilized opposite of Ezekiel Ansah, rotating in at closed end on early downs, then moving inside and giving way to Cornelius Washington in pass-rushing situations.
According to Football Outsiders, Bryant was the most underrated player on the Browns roster in 2015, and most of that had to do with his ability to stop the run:
Bryant's 91 percent stop rate against the run was third in the league, and he led the team with six sacks. But you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone outside northeast Ohio (and few within the Cleveland city limits) who knows who he is.
Last season, Detroit struggled mightily in stopping the run, ranking 29th in stuffed success and allowing 4.4 yards per carry. Should Cornelius Washington stay healthy and fill the pass rushing void, him and Bryant could form a formidable tandem to replace the versatility the team lost with Hyder’s injury while solidifying their run defense.
With a ton of youth dispersed along the defensive front, a veteran with the skill set of Desmond Bryant could provide answers to the questions Detroit is dealing with this preseason.