The Detroit Lions’ defense had a rough year overall in 2018, but at least saw some improvements near the end of the year, especially versus the run. Unfortunately, their pass rush and their coverage units continued their struggles while the run defense succeeded. I believe that a good defense is built from the trenches outward, and now that the interior line is beginning to look nice, it’s time for the front office to finally add some young talent on the edges and get themselves a nice edge rusher.
Luckily for them, there are a lot of good edge rushers to choose from in this year’s draft class, and they’ll be picking high enough to get one, or maybe two, whether it’s in the first round or later on. I believe that this class is shaping up to be stacked in the early-to-mid rounds of the draft, and a lot of those talented EDGE prospects look like very nice fits for the Lions and Patricia’s defense.
Here are several sleeper/under the radar names that could help the Lions address their need for a pass rusher on the edge.
Jaylon Ferguson (Louisiana Tech) | 6-foot-5, 262 pounds
Ferguson has piled up stats since he was a freshman and currently holds the NCAA D-I sack record with 45 career sacks. But there was always something missing while watching his 2016 and 2017 film. In 2018, Ferguson looked like a completely different player with extra muscle added to his frame, improved burst and some of the best hand usage in this year’s EDGE class.
At 6-foot-5, 262 pounds, Ferguson has the ideal size to fit the Lions’ scheme and can rush the passer with his hand in the dirt or from a 3-point stance. He has decent bend/flexibility and good burst, while using a variety of moves (speed, push-pull, club-rip, etc.) to get to the quarterback. As a run defender, Ferguson controls the point of attack well and often sheds his blocks at the right moment amassing a ton of TFLs over his career (67.5).
Testing will be very important for Ferguson, as some believe that he is just an average athlete, but if all goes well, I believe that the Lions will have Ferguson very high on their board.
Charles Omenihu (Texas) | 6-foot-6, 275 pounds
Another one of my favorite under-the-radar fits for the Lions is Texas EDGE Charles Omenihu. If there was one specific edge rusher that I’d hate to line up against as an offensive lineman, it might be Omenihu. I compare him to a UFC fighter that is constantly pressing you up against the cage and wearing you down both physically and mentally. His raw strength and relentlessness makes him an exhausting player to match up against.
Omenihu, like Ferguson, is masterful with his hands and uses a variety of moves to win early in reps. His versatility is a big plus on his resume, lining up all over the line for the Longhorns from 0-tech to outside the TE. Omenihu is stout against the run, has better burst and bend than you’d expect from someone his size, and would be a perfect fit at RDE for the Lions.
Anthony Nelson (Iowa) | 6-foot-7, 271 pounds
Nelson is another guy that is being overlooked right now, but has a chance to prove himself after recently accepting his Senior Bowl invite. Like many in this year’s class, Nelson doesn’t quite have natural bend but is a solid athlete for his size and uses his raw strength to overwhelm opposing tackles. He shows flashes of dominance, but is a relatively raw prospect, especially as a pass rusher. I think with some refinement, he can develop into a very good edge setter.
Nelson should hear his name called somewhere on Day 2 and could be a big riser if he impresses during Senior Bowl week and tests well.
Zach Allen (Boston College) | 6-foot-5, 285 pounds
Allen has the desired size to fill Ezekiel Ansah’s role as the down DE for the Lions, but doesn’t have nearly the amount of upside that Ansah once had. As a pass rusher, Allen lacks some of the desired traits that scouts look for, such as natural bend and explosiveness. He’s a bit of a one-dimensional pass rusher with his bull rush typically being his go to and only real move.
Where Allen wins is with his play strength, motor and technical prowess, especially against the run. Allen exhibits the ability to stack and shed well and uses his strong hands to control his opponents. Versatility is also a strength of Allen’s and something that I’m sure the Lions and other teams will find attractive when watching Allen’s film, as he’s able to kick inside if need be.
As of now, I’d expect Allen to go somewhere between Day 2 and early Day 3 range.
Oshane Ximines (Old Dominion) | 6-foot-4, 255 pounds
At 255 pounds, Ximines might be a little small to play the down DE role for the Lions, and he isn’t quite as athletic as you’d like for him to play the standup role where he would likely be asked to occasionally drop back into coverage. However, for a small school prospect, Ximines is one of the most technically sound edge rushers in the draft. Ximines’s sudden hands often catch tackles off guard, and he is very unpredictable with his wide variety of moves.
As a run defender, Ximines is disciplined and does a nice job of stacking and shedding. He holds the point of attack well enough, though he may struggle against bigger and stronger NFL tackles. Ximines isn’t very explosive and can easily be deterred when speed rushing by even the slightest bit of contact, but despite his shortcomings, I believe that he can be a solid fit for the Lions in the later rounds.