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5 free agents that can fix the Detroit Lions’ ‘girth’ issue on the defensive line

Bring in the big boys!

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Tennessee Titans Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a bit apparent to Detroit Lions fans and media for a while that the Lions are lacking some girth along their defensive line. The Lions have a lot of guys in the defensive line room and they’re all lean. After the retirement of John Penisini early this month, Jashon Cornell and Alim McNeill are the only players on the Lions defensive line that hits the 300-pound mark. On Thursday, we found out that it’s pretty apparent to Dan Campbell as well.

“I do think that we may need a little bit more girth up front,” Campbell said. “I wouldn’t say that we’re not looking for that or won’t be.”

The Lions have been getting smaller and quicker across the board on defense. That makes sense with the direction most offenses are going—spreading the ball out wide and utilizing fast, shifty receivers on the perimeters. However, that does leave the Lions vulnerable to a strong running team, and the division is full of them. Campbell said he’s hoping their aggressive mentality will disrupt in the backfield.

“You better be disruptive then,” Campbell said. “We’ve got to hit these gaps, we’ve got to hit the blocks, we can’t allow ourselves to get road graded.”

Still, it’s apparent Campbell is thinking about getting bulkier on the defensive front, and I have good news for him. As a fat man, I have a PhD in fat. All Dan had to do was call me, and I’d tell him where to find the big boys. Here’s a list of guys the Lions could bring in during camp to try and put some girth along the Lions line:

Star Lotulelei

Let’s start it off with this 311-pound veteran. Lotulelei is a bit long in the tooth at 32 years old, but he he’s definitely got the size the Lions are looking for. The former 14th overall pick has had a rough go in the last few years. He opted out of the 2020 season and then got COVID in 2021 and wound up missing seven games. Before that, Lotulelei was a career starter who went four straight years without missing a game.

Lotulelei can bring a veteran presence on a young team and that aforementioned girth too. He’s worth a look.

Tyeler Davison

A little bit of a younger option here. Davison is 29 years old and he’s 309 pounds. This is a name to definitely keep an eye on for the Lions. Davison played for the Saints while both Dan Campbell and Aaron Glenn were on the coaching staff there, and they know what he can do for the Lions. Most recently Davison was with the Atlanta Falcons. After signing a one-year deal with the team in 2019, the Falcons decided to extend him for a three-deal before releasing him this past March. Davison has been a career starter and he could definitely fit on with the Lions.

Danny Shelton

A familiar name in Detroit. The 345-pound Shelton played for Matt Patricia’s Lions in 2020 before being released by the team after that season. It didn’t go that well for Shelton on his first go with Detroit, and he struggled with the Giants last year, but this is different situation in Detroit with better coaching. Already the Lions have revived the careers of several players, because they excel at putting their guys in the best situation to succeed. Shelton could come in for camp, and try to be the next guy that gets back on track with Detroit. The former first-round pick is still only 28 years old. There’s still time.

Antwaun Woods

Camp is the perfect time and place to try out a guy like Antwaun Woods. The 310-pound nose tackle has been in the league since 2016 and started 32 games in that time. He’s best known for his time with the Cowboys. Woods was the team’s full-time starter in 2018 and had a decent 63.9 PFF grade. The future looked bright until he got bit buy the injury bug at the end of the year. The bug kept biting him in 2019 and 2020. The Cowboys released him after the 2020 season despite putting a restricted free agent tender on him.

He didn’t catch on with the Colts in 2021 and he might not catch on with the Lions either. But it's worth a look for a team that’s able to work with guys and help them get to spots where they can succeed.

Justin Zimmer

You may remember Zimmer from his time at Ferris State. The Greenville native has been in the league since 2016 and it took a while for him to find a home. But he found that home in 2020 with the Buffalo Bills. Zimmer spent the last two years with the Bills and played 18 games for them. He even helped the Bills reach the AFC championship game in 2020. He went down with a season-ending injury after just six games in 2021 and he’s yet to start a game, but he could be a rotational piece, and the Lions could use contributions.

The rub with Zimmer is that he’s 29 and bringing him in would realistically be a depth move. But Detroit is likely looking for depth, and at this point, there just aren’t many available players who aren’t deep into their 30s or super young practice squad players.

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