It seems like pass rusher is an annual need for the Detroit Lions, and this 2019 offseason is no exception.
The Lions enter free agency and the draft with many questions surrounding their defensive line. The biggest question revolves around Ezekiel Ansah’s future with the team. A pending free agent, Ansah is an effective pass rusher when on the field. His availability, however, remains an issue. With 11 tackles and four sacks in just seven games played, Ansah had another season with injury concerns. A team will take a chance on him, but it remains to be seen if the Lions are one of those teams.
Elsewhere, Romeo Okwara led the team in sacks with eight, followed by Devon Kennard with seven. Despite the decent sack total — the Lions finished with 43 sacks, tied for 11th in the league — the Lions struggled with creating pressure, ranking as the third worst defense at generating pass rush per Pro Football Focus, ahead of only the Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In fact, PFF’s top five NFC North edge defenders didn’t include a single Lion:
2018's highest-graded edge defenders in the NFC North pic.twitter.com/ouNfM4nomG— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) February 15, 2019
Sure, PFF isn’t the be-all and end-all when assessing a player’s success, but there is still concern to be had.
Other edge rushers from the 2018 Detroit Lions include Eli Harold, another upcoming free agent, Eric Lee, and Mitchell Loewen, all of whom figure to compete for depth roles. While Da’Shawn Hand did line up at edge a few times this season, he was most effective inside.
In free agency, there are a plethora of big name free agents; Jadeveon Clowney, DeMarcus Lawrence, Trey Flowers, Frank Clark, and Preston Smith are just some of the players slated to hit the market. The key word, however, is slated. Many of these names could be re-signed or franchise tagged before free agency — Clowney and Lawrence will likely be unavailable. Additionally, pass rushers tend to command a hefty paycheck, and the Lions have not broken the bank for them in the past (franchise tagging Ansah aside).
The draft, meanwhile, has some elite talent, but the Lions might need some luck. The top edge prospects include Nick Bosa, Josh Allen (not the quarterback), Rashan Gary, Montez Sweat, Brian Burns, Jachai Polite, and Clelin Ferrell. However, there is very little consensus among the draft community, and as of now, it will be hard to predict who will be available when. The Lions could trade down or target a pass rusher in later rounds as well.
All that considered, here’s out question of the day:
Who will be the Lions’ starting pass rushers next season?
I expect the Lions to let Ansah walk, re-sign Okwara, sign a rotational piece in free agency, and spend a first to third rounder on an edge. I would love the Lions to acquire Trey Flowers or Preston Smith, but there will be a lot of bidding for their services, and I think they will be pushed out of Detroit’s price range.
I believe the starting pass rushers will be:
- Okwara (if the rookie is a DE/LB) OR Kennard (if the rookie is a DE)
It’s not the sexiest of moves, but it’s a likely one. The Lions utilized many rotations last season, so even if Okwara or Kennard don’t start, they’ll likely get sufficient snaps.
Your turn: Who will be the Lions’ starting pass rushers next season?