The Detroit Lions landed the best free agent of the 2019 class this offseason when they signed former New England Patriots edge rusher Trey Flowers to a five-year deal worth $90 million. Flowers had been rumored to be a top target for the team for months and the rumors finally materialized on the opening day of the NFL’s tampering window.
Flowers was an absolute stud for the Patriots, and was one of the best players on a defense that played in three consecutive Super Bowls. He played a pivotal role in the Patriots historic comeback against the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI.
He was selected by the Patriots in the fourth round of the 2015 NFL draft, but didn’t become a regular contributor until 2016. Flowers has totaled 21 sacks and 164 combined tackles since 2016, including 7.5 sacks and 57 tackles in 2018.
While his stats may not exactly jump off the page, Flowers’ ability to do virtually anything a team needs him to on the defensive front made him an incredibly valuable piece in New England.
Flowers is officially listed as a defensive end but also regularly lined up at at 3-tech, 0-tech and as a “jack” (edge rushing outside linebacker who can double as a defensive end).
He is able to do this because of his unique ability to play much larger than his size. Flowers is listed at 6-foot-2, 265 pounds, which is slightly undersized for a 3-4 defensive end (for comparison, Za’Darius Smith, another top free agent 3-4 defensive end, is 6-foot-4, 275 pounds and Ezekiel Ansah is 6-foot-6, 270). When he kicks inside to play as an interior defender he is incredibly undersized (Da’Shawn Hand is 6-foot-4, 298, A’Shawn Robinson is 6-foot-4 ,320, and Damon Harrison is a whopping 6-foot-3, 353). His body type is one that you would usually see at jack (Devon Kennard is 6-foot-3, 260).
One would imagine that an undersized player would rely primarily on his speed rather than strength when rushing the passer, but that is not at all the case with Flowers.
The defensive end is a great power rusher and bulldozes his way through opposing tackles. This play against the Green Bay Packers from last season is a good example:
The pass rusher comes off of the edge and is matched up against Packers tackle Bryan Bulaga. Flowers engages the tackle and is able to get leverage on him and throw him to the ground with ease. This allows Flowers to quickly get to Aaron Rodgers and force him to throw the ball away.
Flowers has the ability to bull rush and just barrel his way through the offensive line when he kicks inside, too. He has no trouble eating up space on the defensive interior either, as he showed later in the same game against the Packers:
Flowers is lined up at 3-tech here. He crashes inside off of the snap and engages Green Bay’s center. He powers through the offensive lineman and pushes him all the way back into Rodgers lap. Flowers’ rush forced Rodgers to throw off of his back foot.
His ability to penetrate on the interior is especially valuable for the Lions. Just like the Patriots, the Lions love moving pieces all over their defensive front. On passing downs they regularly run a “NASCAR” package, where they would take off some of the bigger bodies and load the defensive front with smaller, faster, players like Jarrad Davis. When Ansah came back from injury late in the season he would take over as an interior rusher in these packages but was ineffective.
The upgrade from Ansah to Flowers on these key downs should be a boost to everyone on the defensive front and should help the Lions defense get off the field more often.
Flowers is not just a power rusher, though. He has great technique and is great at using his hands to disengage from blockers. He is rarely content getting blocked without any sort of counter, and he makes it hard for offensive lineman to get a hold of him.
On this play against the Miami Dolphins in Week 14, he is able to avoid letting the offensive lineman engage him. He swats away the tackle’s block attempt and quickly collapses inside for a sack when the quarterback is forced to step up into the pocket.
Flowers also has great bend when coming around the edge. He has ability to contort his body and drive through blockers makes him very slippery and hard to deal with. This play against the Houston Texans in the Patriots season opener is a great example:
His combination of hand usage, bend and strength allow him to make some incredible plays, like he did later in the game against the Texans.
Another big part of Flowers’ play-making ability is his burst off of the edge. Everything Flowers does is reliant on his ability to shoot out of his stance and get the jump on the blocker across from him. It allows him to slip through the smallest of cracks in the offense’s blocking and lets him quickly close the pocket in on the opposing quarterback.
Flowers will do more that just pass rush for Detroit, though. He is an elite run defender on the edge. He does a great job setting the edge to contain runs, and collapsing inside when need be.
He also does a great job diagnosing plays. Flowers rarely overruns plays on play action and seems to usually have his head in the right direction. His instincts are great.
His ability to diagnose plays allows him to contain some of the NFL’s most dangerous quarterbacks when they get out of the pocket, like he did with Rodgers here.
Flowers is lined up at 1-tech on this play. New England’s edge rushers collapse on Rodgers and flush him out of the pocket. Rodgers finds himself in all kinds of space, and he definitely has the speed to gain the 10 yards needed for a first down. Flowers reads this from the interior, though, and quickly makes his way outside to force the quarterback out of bounds for a minimal gain.
This quick reaction and ability to keep up with an athletic quarterback and chase him out to the flat can be a huge boost to a defense whose edge rushers and linebackers looked lost at some points last season, especially when you consider how the Lions made it clear that their goal was to contain Rodgers last season to avoid allowing him to make plays on the ground.
The Lions landed an absolute stud in Flowers. He is one of the best players in the NFL, playing at one of the most valuable positions in the NFL. A defense that was already one of the best in the league towards the end of last season just got a huge injection of talent into one of its weakest positions.
Flowers is a special player, and his presence in Detroit’s defense may bring them to an elite level.