The Detroit Lions have a pass rushing problem, that much is abundantly clear. While their sack numbers were actually above league average (t-11th), they were one of the worst teams at creating pressure. According to Pro Football Focus, only the Raiders had a worse pass-rushing grade than the Lions.
Understandably so, that has many Lions fans scouring the NFL Draft for edge rushers and pass-rushing threats from the interior. Adding a young talent is logical, especially when you consider how tough it is to find pass-rushing talent on the free agency market.
However, Football Outsiders (via ESPN In$ider) suggested a different approach. While the top-tier guys like DeMarcus Lawrence aren’t likely to hit free agency, they identified a couple of players that could be overlooked when the market opens—but would be particularly good fits in Detroit.
To start, Football Outsiders suggested the Lions make a splash signing in Washington’s Preston Smith. Washington is not expected to use the franchise tag on their 2015 second-round pick, meaning the opportunity is there.
As for the player himself, there’s a lot to like about him. Smith had the highest pressure rate of any player in 2017, per NextGenStats. He’s coming off his highest graded season per PFF (76.9, 19th among edge defenders). He’s long (34-inch arms) and tall (6-foot-6), and hasn’t missed a game since entering the league.
He’s also a great fit for Detroit.
“He might not be the pure pass-rushing devil Lions fans are hoping for, but his athleticism and schematic ambiguity are perfect for Patricia’s defense,” Football Outsiders wrote.
The issue here is that the Lions paid a lot of money for a jack linebacker last year. Devon Kennard wasn’t great in 2018, but he was certainly effective at times, and the Lions are committed to him financially for at least another season. Meanwhile, Smith is expected to pull in a pretty hefty contract. Spotract estimates something in the range of four years, $44.8 million to net Smith in free agency.
To complement the move, Football Outsider suggested adding another piece to the Lions’ pass rushing arsenal. Shaquil Barrett may not be a name you’re familiar with, but the 26-year-old outside linebacker has been a quiet contributor for the Broncos over the past four years. In 61 game appearances (nine starts), Barrett has 151 tackles, 14.0 sacks and seven forced fumbles.
“(Barrett) was the third pass-rusher in Denver for years and always played like one of the league’s best substitute rushers,” Football Outsiders noted. “Being a high-end sub rusher might not be a flashy title, but given the value of passing and pass rush in this league, the luxury of an effective pass-rusher off the bench is wonderful.”
The Lions’ edge rusher cupboard was extremely bare last seasons, which led to the Lions using guys like Romeo Okwara on upwards of 80 percent of snaps.
Many Lions fans are fixated on a guy like Trey Flowers in free agency (for good reason), but Football Outsiders’ proposal makes just about as much sense and may come slightly cheaper.