According to a report from NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo, the Detroit Lions are hosting free agent defensive lineman Arden Key for a visit on Monday, Per Garafolo, there are a few teams “in the mix” for Key, but the Lions will be the first to visit with the edge defender.
Key, a former third-round pick, didn’t amount to much in his first three years with the Las Vegas Raiders. He tallied just 3.0 sacks in 37 games played and never had a PFF grade above 59.0. He was unceremoniously waived three years into his career.
However, last year, Key signed a one-year deal with the San Francisco 49ers, and his career saw a resurgence. As a rotational piece—he didn’t start a single game—Key produced 6.5 sacks, 17 quarterback hits, and, according to PFF, 39 pressures, fourth-highest on the team. His 75.4 pass-rushing grade ranks 41st among 120 qualifying edge rushers.
Our own Erik Schlitt pointed to Key as a free agent to watch for during the playoffs two months ago:
Then Key signed with the 49ers and suddenly his career was reborn. As a situational pass rusher, Key more than doubled his career sack totals, officially registering 6.5 sacks (8 per PFF), a pass-rushing grade of 77.0, and an overall grade of 69.1 from PFF.
Why the sudden resurgence? Well, it’s all about coaching according to Key.
“Coaching is everything,” Key told the Mercury News. “It starts from the top. They make sure we as athletes have everything we need to succeed and play fast on Sunday. It’s a players-first organization. If a player is feeling kind of tired body-wise coaches will see that and let us get our legs back under us. Coaches will listen if we see something when we come to the sideline, we can talk about it and get it corrected.”
At just 26 years old, Key could have a bright future in front of him, although his fit with the Lions would be interesting. Detroit already re-signed Charles Harris this offseason, and they have Romeo Okwara coming back from an Achilles injury this year. Key would join the ranks of Austin Bryant, Julian Okwara, Jesse Lemonier, and Rashod Berry as rotational pieces behind those two.
That said, Arden brings some interior versatility, so he could contend with players like Michael Brockers and Levi Onwuzurike for some time at defensive tackle.
Arden Key is having the best year of his career under 49ers superstar DL coach Kris Kocurek, primarily lining up inside as a 3T using a silky smooth swipe move for 4 of his 5 HQ sacks this season. Another example of elite coaching unlocking disregarded talent. pic.twitter.com/QjlrLGdGEC— Brandon Thorn (@BrandonThornNFL) December 30, 2021
Adding Key would also give the Lions some flexibility in the draft. With many predicting Aidan Hutchinson to be the very first pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, the Lions wouldn’t have to force taking the second-best edge in the class if they liked another player better.
But before we get too ahead of ourselves, this is just a visit and the Lions will have to woo him away from other teams.