As we move to the defensive side in our 2022 NFL Draft preview series, the Detroit Lions are likely to focus their efforts on getting playmakers on this side of the ball. The Lions had one of the worst defenses in the league by any legitimate metric, both in terms of stopping the run and defending the pass.
A key to a good defense is a dominant front. Last year, the Lions invested two draft picks plus traded for a proven veteran at the defensive tackle position. But even so, it doesn’t seem like the Lions are exactly set at that position both in the immediate and moving beyond 2022.
So as Part 7 of our draft preview series, let’s take a closer look at the interior defenders this year’s class has to offer.
Previously: Quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, offensive tackle, guard
Under contract: Michael Brockers (signed through 2023), Alim McNeill (2024), Levi Onwuzurike (2024), John Penisini (2023), Jashon Cornell (2023), Bruce Hector (2022), Eric Banks (2022)
Short term need: 4/10
Long-term need: 7/10
The Lions could go into 2022 with a rotation of Michael Brockers, Alim McNeill, Levi Onwuzurike, and whoever wins out a fourth and fifth spot among the rest and feel okay about the unit. The starting positions could use an upgrade and Detroit could certainly find better depth behind them, but it certainly sounds like they’re expecting both McNeill and Onwuzurike to take Year 2 jumps. Chances are they’ll bring in a couple more bodies before camp starts, but they could do worse than this unit for the next year.
However, Brockers doesn’t seem long for this roster. Though he’s signed on for the 2023 season, his cap hit climbs to nearly $12 million next season, and the Lions can recoup $10 million of that with a release. Given that Brockers will be 33 next season, he seems very unlikely to see that final year in his deal.
In other words, defensive tackle is very much a long-term need. It would make a lot of sense, in fact, if they drafted a player who would spend a year under Brockers this season and take on a much bigger role in 2023.
Day 1/Day 2 options: Georgia’s Jordan Davis, Georgia’s Devonte Wyatt, Houston’s Logan Hall, UConn’s Travis Jones, Oklahoma’s Perrion Winfrey
Jordan Davis is an athletic freak that has suddenly climbed from the bottom of the first round to a borderline top-10 pick. A beast at nose or the one-tech is simply not worth the second-overall pick, but if Detroit somehow manages to trade down, or Davis takes an unexpected slip into the late first round, he’s an option.
Wyatt fell to the Lions in our Community Mock Draft, and our own Erik Schlitt made a persuasive argument for him.
One of his best traits is his lateral quickness, where he can both disrupt the pocket and track the ball down the line through traffic. His ability to properly fill gaps and stop the run is huge for NFL teams. He displays above-average power, can settle down as an anchor, and is difficult to move off his spot. Like most Georgia defenders, power is a signature trait and his motor doesn’t stop.
Moving down to options near the Pick 66 range, Hall is a versatile piece that many view as an edge defender—and his 6.5 sacks last year help prove that case. Additionally, at just 260 pounds, he may get pushed around in the running game. That said, he’s a much better run defender on the edge and could provide some much-needed interior pass rush on obvious passing downs.
Jones may have to be the pick at 34 for the Lions to get a hold of him. A fantastic combination of size and speed, Jones can play the nose or the three-technique. His pass rushing arsenal is still pretty bare, but the athletic traits give him a path to development. He’d be a tough sell, though, with Alim McNeill already on the roster.
Winfrey was a standout at the Senior Bowl, earning the game’s MVP award. That’s a carryover from his phenomenal 2021 season, in which he tallied 11.0 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. There is no better way to describe Winfrey than this two-rep sequence where he displays his quickness, then his power:
This is the kind of stuff that gets my attention.— Erik Lambert (@ErikLambert1) February 6, 2022
Perrion Winfrey eats, drinks, and breathes football.
Beats the OG once. Calls him back to the line for another rep. Beats him again.
He's becoming a favorite of mine.#Bears pic.twitter.com/doHvseJo3h
Late-round options: Tennessee’s Matthew Butler, UCLA’s Otito Ogbonnia, Ohio State’s Haskell Garrett, and Missouri State’s Eric Johnson
Unfortunately for Detroit, there’s a pretty big drop-off in talent once we move to the fourth round or later. Still, there are a few options the Lions could consider.
Butler has above-average athleticism and only moderate production, but he’s a team captain and a high-IQ player. With 7.0 sacks in his final two seasons, Butler could develop into a situational pass rusher and a positive locker room presence.
Ogbonnia was one of my Senior Bowl standouts. Here’s what I said after the National’s first practice:
But what stood out about Ogbonnia was the different ways in which he won his rep. While he first drew attention with his brute strength, he later side-stepped Fordham’s Nick Zakelj with the kind of short-area speed that not many 326-pound linemen have.
His physical traits are there, but he’s far too inconsistent to have a major role right away. He’d be a nice developmental project that Brockers could take on.
A standout from the NFL Combine, Garrett has nice quickness and good hand usage. However, sub 32-inch arms will limit his effectiveness at the next level. But with a team-leading 5.5 sacks last year, the potential for production at the next level is there.
Johnson caught the Lions’ attention enough to earn himself a top-30 visit in Allen Park. At 6-foot-4, 300 pounds, he’s certainly more of a three-technique/pass rusher. But with above-average arm length, he holds his own in the running game, as well. He was a five-year starter at Missouri State and he’ll be 24 years old before the start of the 2022 season, but he’s seasoned enough where he could potentially jump right into the rotation, even as a projected Day 3 pick. At the very least, he could play special teams, as he blocked five (!) kicks in college.