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Detroit Lions updated defensive depth chart, team needs

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A look at how the Lions’ defense is looking after one week of free agency.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

On Friday, we took an updated look at a projected Detroit Lions’ depth chart on offense. While there are still needs on that side of the ball, the outlook is fairly static. Outside of some changes on the offensive line, there aren’t that many changes to the offense, and that’s probably a good thing. With a healthy Matthew Stafford, we’ve seen Detroit put together a nice attack.

The defense is a completely different story. That side of the ball needed major changes from 2019, and we certainly got plenty in the first week of free agency. Of course, change doesn’t always mean improvement, but let’s take a closer look at this transformed defense and see where the team still needs to do some work.

Here is our projected Detroit Lions depth chart for defense (and special teams).

Defensive interior

Nose tackle

  1. Danny Shelton
  2. John Atkins
  3. Olive Sagapolu

Defensive tackle

  1. Da’Shawn Hand
  2. Nick Williams
  3. Kevin Strong

In comes Danny Shelton and Nick Williams, out goes Damon Harrison, A’Shawn Robinson and Mike Daniels.

As it currently stands, the Lions could certainly go into 2020 with the current slate of interior defenders they have. However, they would be wise to add some playable depth. That could mean bringing back Daniels on an incentive-laden deal. It could mean dipping into the defensive tackle class early in the NFL Draft. Either way, there’s certainly a need here, even if a starting job isn’t up for grabs at the moment.

Edge defenders

Defensive end

  1. Trey Flowers
  2. Romeo Okwara
  3. Jonathan Wynn
  4. Frank Herron

Jack linebacker

  1. Jamie Collins Sr./Jarrad Davis
  2. Austin Bryant

Much like the interior situation, the starters may be all set, but the depth could use some re-tooling. One position that is completely unclear is the jack linebacker spot. With Devon Kennard now in Arizona, the Lions have a decision to make on how to utilize the linebackers they’ve got.

We may want to divorce ourselves from the idea that the Lions will have a pure, base jack linebacker. Collins can certainly fill that role in some situations, but he played more on the interior with New England last year (PFF has his split at 439 snaps as an ILB and 337 as OLB in 2019).

Davis hasn’t seen much time on the edges, but with the development of 2019 second-round pick Jahlani Tavai and the addition of another good interior linebacker, Davis could finally see some work at jack.

Off-ball linebackers

  1. Jamie Collins/Jarrad Davis
  2. Jahlani Tavai
  3. Christian Jones
  4. Jalen Reeves-Maybin
  5. Steve Longa
  6. Miles Killebrew
  7. Jason Cabinda
  8. Anthony Pittman
  9. Christian Sam

Again, it’s hard to know exactly how the Lions will define these players’ roles, but Detroit’s depth actually looks somewhat positive here. Obviously, the play of Davis is key in 2020, as the former first-round pick is entering the final year on his rookie deal. But Detroit’s depth is filled with players that have some experience on defense and a lot of special teams skills.

The Lions could probably use some improvement with their starters (see: Davis, Jones), but they at least have a roster conceivable of starters and depth right now.

Cornerbacks

  1. Desmond Trufant
  2. Justin Coleman (Slot)
  3. Amani Oruwariye
  4. Jamal Agnew (Slot)
  5. Mike Ford
  6. Dee Virgin
  7. Tony McRae
  8. Mike Jackson

The Lions have a starting outside corner and a nickel corner. Everything else is depth and special teams. In other words, after the trade of Darius Slay, outside cornerback is potentially this team’s biggest need right now. While 2019 fifth-round pick Amani Oruwariye could grow into that role, his rookie season had enough ups and downs for the Lions to need some serious competition there.

Jeff Okudah isn’t locked in stone for the Lions’ third overall pick, but he certainly makes a ton of sense right now.

Safety

  1. Tracy Walker (SS)
  2. Duron Harmon (FS)
  3. Will Harris
  4. Jayron Kearse
  5. C.J. Moore

The Lions would probably be fine going into 2020 with these four as their top safeties, but Detroit will certainly need to add some depth here for training camp competition. They could move Killebrew back to safety to help, but I also wouldn’t count out a return from Tavon Wilson. Detroit could use more experience in this group, but Wilson may look to somewhere he can have a more defined role.

Special teams

  1. Matt Prater (K)
  2. Don Muhlbach (LS)
  3. James Fisher (LS)
  4. Matt Wile (P)
  5. Jack Fox (P)

The only question here is at punter. Detroit signed two to futures deals while it appears they will let Sam Martin test the market. Wile is on his eighth team in five years while Fox was a late practice squad addition who can punt and be on kickoff duties.

Drafting a late-round punter remains a strong possibility for this team, as Wile nor Fox present great options for the team.

Biggest needs on defense/special teams

  1. Outside cornerback
  2. Pass rusher
  3. Punter
  4. Linebacker talent
  5. Safety depth

The Lions have done a good job addressing each level of the defense this free agency, and outside of cornerback, there is no real pressing need. That being said, they could certainly see some talent improvements at just about every position. Their interior defenders aren’t quite as good as the players they had last year—even if that group didn’t live up to expectations. The linebacking corps remains below average, even with the addition of Collins. And this team still desperately needs a big pass rushing threat (from any position) to go alongside Flowers.

The defense is starting to come together, but it could still seriously use a boost in talent.