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Next Man Up: Detroit Lions hungry for depth at nose tackle

It takes more than Snacks to fill a Lion’s stomach. Beyond the star lineman, the Lions have serious questions at nose tackle.

Seattle Seahawks v Detroit Lions Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

How ironic would it be if the thinnest position on the Lions depth chart were nose tackle?

It sure appears to be the case right now. Damon “Snacks” Harrison anchors what is shaping up to be a mean Lions defensive line in 2019, but without an anchor, a ship goes adrift no matter how good its crew.

That being said, the Lions are in serious trouble if something were to happen to Snacks—something a lot of people should’ve realized when he took personal time to be there for his new twins and we all thought he was holding out.

Next Man Up: John Atkins / PJ Johnson / Darius Kilgo

“Next man up” usually constitutes whoever’s the backup at a position, but nose tackle is a mess. PJ Johnson has the highest ceiling of the group being that he was just drafted, but as a seventh-round pick I wouldn’t say expectations are terribly high. Also, Johnson has an extensive injury history from college so it’ll be interesting to see how he holds up in the NFL.

That leaves Atkins and Kilgo as the only two with experience under their belt—that is, if you can even call it that. Atkins played a reserve role with the Lions last year, while Kilgo spent 2018 with the Tennessee Titans. The two combined for a whopping seven tackles over the course of the entire season.

Grade: D

There really isn’t much more to be said about the current depth; the Lions need to find help. They’re in deep trouble if Snacks is unavailable, and they’re probably better off sliding someone like A’Shawn Robinson over from the three-technique to nose tackle in that situation. After all, rookie Da’Shawn Hand’s emergence at the three-technique likely eliminates any chance the Lions pay Robinson when his contract is up after the 2019 season, so perhaps that switch would make sense for both sides.

Another potential solution is free agent Domata Peko, who is up there in age at 34 years old but still has gas in the tank as he showed in 2018, starting all 16 games for the Denver Broncos. Peko has verbally expressed an interest in playing for the Los Angeles Rams, but as of the writing of this article the Lions have shown the greatest interest in Peko.

Whatever the Lions do, they’d better do it quickly. In the NFL, any play could be someone’s last, and the Lions simply can’t afford for Snacks to be off the field. The Lions are trying to build an identity as a run-stuffing team with a menacing defensive line, and without a force up the middle that plan goes right out the window.

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