It is clear that the Detroit Lions heavily value the run game, despite the league’s trend towards the pass. Their first round picks since 2016 include:
- Taylor Decker, a skilled run blocker at tackle
- Jarrad Davis, a run-stuffing linebacker
- Frank Ragnow, a skilled run blocker at guard
- T.J. Hockenson, a tight end who excels as a run blocker
This does not even include trading up in the second round for running back Kerryon Johnson in 2018 and adding run stuffing defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson in the second round of the 2016 draft.
Detroit traded for both Damon Harrison Sr. and Eli Harold in 2018. Their biggest signing of free agency in 2017 was Devon Kennard, an edge rusher who can’t really pass rush but is great at setting the edge. Recent 2020 additions Jamie Collins Sr. and Duron Harmon are especially great against the run, while tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai has struggled as a pass blocker during his career thus far, while doing well as a run blocker.
All of this to say, this team clearly wants to do two things: Run the ball well, and stop the run. Almost all of their personnel moves in the Bob Quinn era show this.
Now, the Detroit Lions have their highest draft selection in 10 years this Thursday, as they hope to add an impact player that can get this franchise back on track. Even if they trade back, they will still most likely end up picking in the top 10.
Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah has become the most popular name to go to Detroit among fans and mock drafters. And it makes sense why. Cornerback is the team’s biggest need at the moment, especially after the exit of star corner Darius Slay. But knowing the team’s valuation of the run game, one has to wonder whether Quinn and the rest of the front office agrees.
Another big loss for the Lions this offseason was the release of Harrison. The defensive tackle absolutely turned around the defense in 2018 and dragged them from one of the worst in the league against the run to one of the best. He took a gigantic step back last year, and the team saw its run defense slide back towards the bottom of the league once again.
It is clear that Detroit valued Harrison, as well, after they gave the aging veteran an extension last season despite their usual reluctance to extend aging players. His value in 2019 was shown on full display when the team saw their run defense crater when he took a step back. Finding another player like Harrison, amazing run defender that can stuff the middle of the defensive lines and force running backs into the gaps filled by linebackers, may be at the top of the Lions list.
This is where Auburn defensive lineman Derrick Brown comes in. The 6-foot-3, 317 pound defensive lineman was a dominant run stuffer for the Tigers, and his ability could likely translate to the next level.
Brown comes with some huge flaws, though. He is not particularly athletic. He does not have explosiveness necessary to be a formidable pass rusher. The team may not need any of that for him to be the perfect fit in their defensive front, though.
For Detroit, that may prove to be a worthy trade off. As we saw in 2019, consistently generating a pass rush is not a priority for this team. Stopping the run and holding ground in the middle of the pocket to prevent the quarterback from bolting up the middle is, though.
The Auburn defensive tackle is clearly not a value pick, especially in the Lions stay at three. It will be an unpopular choice, but if Derrick Brown is on the board when Detroit is on the clock, recent history tells us he is the ideal pick for this regime.