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Detroit Lions defense continuing to get younger

Younger? Yes. Better? We’ll see.

NFL: NOV 24 Lions at Redskins Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Detroit Lions went through major overhauls this offseason, and for good reason. Last season, the Lions defense ranked 28th in DVOA, 29th in yards allowed per drive, 26th in points per game allowed and 27th in passer rating allowed.

But change doesn’t always mean improvement. After all, the Lions got rid of some of their biggest and best contributors this offseason. Gone are run-stuffers Damon Harrison Sr. and A’Shawn Robinson, lockdown cornerback Darius Slay, and dependable linebacker Devon Kennard. That’s a total of 2,848 snaps the Lions have to replace with equal or better talent.

And while the level of talent is still yet to be determined, one undeniable movement the Lions made was to get a little bit younger across the board. It hasn’t been by much, but Detroit is continuing a two-year trend of adding more youth to their projected defensive lineup.

Last year, we made a similar observation, noting that the average age of the starting lineup dropped from 27.7 years to 26.6 years. Now let’s compare this year to the equation.

Last year’s starting lineup (with age in Week 1 of 2019 season):

Damon Harrison Sr.: 30
A’Shawn Robinson: 24
Trey Flowers: 26
Devon Kennard: 28
Jarrad Davis: 24
Christian Jones: 28
Darius Slay: 28
Justin Coleman: 26
Rashaan Melvin: 29
Quandre Diggs: 26
Tracy Walker: 24

Average age: 26.6

Now here’s 2020’s starting lineup with their Week 1 age:

Danny Shelton: 27
Da’Shawn Hand: 24
Trey Flowers: 27
Jamie Collins: 30
Jarrad Davis: 25
Jahlani Tavai: 23
Desmond Trufant: 30*
Amani Oruwariye: 24
Justin Coleman: 27
Tracy Walker: 25
Duron Harmon: 29

Average age: 26.4
*Trufant turns 30 on Sep 10, which will probably be around Week 2 of the NFL

Okay, it’s not a big difference this year, but it’s something. The Lions either added younger talent or will be relying heavier upon their younger players at every level of the defense. They got younger at nose tackle with Danny Shelton, and while the additions of Collins and Harmon didn’t make the Lions any younger, it does appear that Da’Shawn Hand (24), Jahlani Tavai (23) and Amani Oruwariye (24) are poised to take over bigger roles in 2020. Even if a guy like Oruwariye doesn’t become the team’s CB2, it appears they may hand the job to a rookie, which would make them even younger.

Hell, there are even a couple of younger players—Will Harris (24), Romeo Okwara (25), Reggie Ragland (26), Austin Bryant (23)—who could play significant roles as rotational players on this defense.

With the NFL Draft a month away, the Lions could potentially get even younger on defense, but ultimately, talent is more important than age, and we’ve yet to see this strategy to get more youthful pay off. Considering 2020 could be a make-or-break season, this could be Detroit’s last chance to see if this strategy will work.

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After winning their first NFC North title in 30 years, the Lions have unfinished business this offseason. Stay updated with Jeremy Reisman through Pride of Detroit Direct, our newsletter offering up exclusive analysis. Sign up with NFCNORTH30 to get 30% off after your free trial.