The Detroit Lions faced the 2018 offseason with a glaring need at pass rusher, a weakened interior defensive line, and a perceived strength in the secondary. They face the 2019 offseason with a glaring need at pass rusher, a weakened secondary, and a perceived strength in the interior defensive line. It has been a wild ride, but the team has a huge hole at a position that this draft looks custom built to fill. The pass rusher class looks like a strong one, especially at the top, and for the first time in recent years the Lions are picking high enough to take advantage of that strong class. We’ve taken a look at some of the issues the team has on the edge, so here are some of the players the team may be in position to take in the 2019 NFL Draft.
Nick Bosa, DE, Ohio State
Projected to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 draft for much of the 2018 season and currently projected to go... number one overall still, this may seem like an odd inclusion. After going over a ton of tape for Bosa and a few other players in this class, however, the idea that he’s a sure fire lock at No. 1 doesn’t really sit with me.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those guys being a hater just to have a contrary opinion, Nick Bosa is a very good football player. He is not the same level of athlete that other recent pass rushers to go at the top of the draft have been, which gives me some minor pause. Bosa has good bend, just like big brother did though not at the same level, but also like his brother Joey Bosa, I’m guessing speed is in the mid 4.8 range. The other pass rushers to go first overall were far faster, Jadeveon Clowney at 4.53, Myles Garrett at 4.64, and even 295 pound Mario Williams at 4.73. Likewise, each was a top-tier athlete (9.70 RAS or higher), while I feel Bosa lands closer to where his brother measured (in the high 8s, low 9s, which is still extremely good).
All that before adding in a significant injury history, an area where having the Bosa name won’t help his case for top pick. That risk is something a team will have to live with. The speed stuff doesn’t bother me as much. Though it shows up occasionally on backside pursuit, he more than makes up for it with great explosion and agility as well as a powerful first step and good repertoire of pass rushing moves. In all likelihood, Bosa is gone before the Lions select at eighth overall, but if Bosa is still there he’d be hard to pass up.
Josh Allen, OLB, Kentucky
If you were looking for the best pure fit as a pass rusher who was ready to start right away for a team with either a straight 3-4 front or some variation thereof, you’d find none better than Josh Allen. Allen has an incredible get off that immediately puts him at an advantage against blockers trying to keep him at bay. His bend is one of the best in this draft class and on tape looks like someone who should clear 7.00 in the 3-Cone at the Combine.
Athletic traits aside, Allen’s tape is excellent and helped see him rise from a possible late first rounder had he declared in 2018 to a likely top-ten selection in the 2019 NFL Draft. Allen is likely going to be at or near the top of the Lions draft board due to his clean fit in the team’s defensive scheme coupled with his athletic upside, though there’s a chance he’s gone before they select at eighth overall.
Not a flawless prospect, Allen struggled at times to disengage from blockers in the run game. This popped on tape far more than I would have liked to see, and the worst part of it was that it often happened when he was in range to use his superior length to at least slow down the runner, but it’s almost as if he’s too focused on the blocker to break away from him. This isn’t to say he has more general struggles in the run game, just that he relies far more on his athletic traits to beat blockers and get away than he does proper hand usage and a flurry of moves.
Brian Burns, DE/OLB, Florida State
When I first dove into the pass rusher class, I didn’t think any player fit the Matt Patricia/Paul Pasqualoni prototype more than Josh Allen. After watching the top guys in the class, that ultimately remains true but only because Brian Burns is far smaller than the coaches like. Schematically, Burns would be perfect. He plays equally well in four and three man fronts on the edge and while dropping into coverage isn’t a strength, it’s something you can ask him to do on occasion.
Athletically, Burns doesn’t seem to have the bend you like in elite pass rushers, but he does possess some serious explosiveness and manages to get around the edge despite some stiffness by simply bursting far enough past the tackle to make the turn more manageable. He also possesses a devastating spin move that I’d like to see him utilize more often.
Burns isn’t as ready to contribute right away as some of the other rushers are, but it’s promising from a development standpoint that he very clearly and tangibly improved each year that he played for Florida State. The Lions hold an early pick in the second round, but it may not be high enough to pick up Burns, meaning they’d have to take him eighth overall—likely far too high—or find a way to trade down to the later part of the opening round.
Jachai Polite, OLB, Florida
Speaking of devastating spin moves, Jachai Polite has a good one that, unlike Burns, he uses frequently. Polite is likely going to start his NFL career as a package rusher due to some pretty severe liabilities in the run game that crop up way too often. At 6-foot-2 and only 240 pounds, his limited size is likely to limit him to 3-4 primary teams only with his lack of functional length turning off any 4-3 or multiple front teams.
Polite doesn’t flash bend nearly as much as the other prospects I’ve viewed, and this class hasn’t been very bendy in general, but he flashes some very strong athletic traits in his explosiveness and speed. Polite reminds me in some ways of former Miami Dolphins first-round pick Charles Harris, though Polite has superior athletic traits, and his deficiencies are far less pronounced than Harris’ was.
While I was a critic of Harris’ first-round billing, I think Polite has a legitimate case for where he’s likely to be drafted—in the end of the first round or beginning of the second—where the Lions are drafting. With the focus Matt Patricia has had on defending the run, I am not sure Polite will be as high on their draft boards as he’s likely to be drafted, but if they see that pass rushing upside and think they can fix the run stuff, he’s a possibility in the second round.
Clelin Ferrell, DE, Clemson
A name linked to the Lions longer than most, Clelin Ferrell was a common player mocked to the Lions throughout the season. Much of this has to do with a public perception, oddly, that the Lions didn’t change their scheme much from 2017. Ferrell has played as a stand up rusher and with his hand in the dirt, but it’s very clear in watching him that he’s far more comfortable getting dirty than he is standing up. In Detroit, he’d play the role of Romeo Okwara, and I think he’d provide a decent upgrade at that position.
Athletically, Ferrell has some moments where he flashes some of the best explosion in this draft class. The problem arises the rest of the time when he doesn’t. He displays no flashes of even passable bend and wouldn’t be what you imagine when you think of a traditional pure edge rusher. To add to that, his speed is only average. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Ferrell measure out well in explosion drills and end up below average in every other metric.
After diving into the tape, I think the Combine is more likely to do harm to his draft prospects than any other pass rusher. The Lions would likely still need to take him with that eighth overall pick to get him, though, as I find it hard to imagine him falling all the way out of the first round.
Which pass rusher do you think the Lions will draft?
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