The 2023 NFL Combine begins on Monday, February 27, with prospects arriving in their positional groups. Over the first few days, players will get medical checks, meet with NFL teams, and take the podium to answer questions from the media. Then on Thursday, March 2, the league will start four days of televised coverage of on-field drills.
This is the latest in a series of articles that will explore the participants at this year’s combine that the Detroit Lions should be keeping a close eye on during positional activities. If you missed any of our previous installments, check them out here: Quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, offensive linemen, and interior defensive linemen.
Next up: edge rushers
The Lions currently have six edge rushers under contract for 2023 and seem to be in good position to re-sign John Cominsky which should lower the need priority. But Cominsky isn’t under contract just yet, and Romeo Okwara and/or Charles Harris could be potential cap casualties, which might make this a sneaky need—especially considering that three and sometimes four will be used at a time.
But at the end of the day, regardless of need, you can never have enough edge talent, and the way the draft board seems to line up at pick No. 6—and possibly beyond—the best player available could very well be an edge rusher.
What to watch for
The Lions deploy three different types of edge rushers—open end, hybrid closed end/interior pass rusher, and pass rushing linebacker (aka SAM)—and they could look to add depth at any of those spots.
During on-field drills, you’re looking for bend (ideally a 45-degree angle when turning a corner), balance through their rush, and the ability to maintain that speed while executing pass rushing moves. Hand quickness and placement are paramount, as is eye/head location, as they should be keying on their target. Power is also vital in the Lions scheme, so keep an eye on how much force they generate when they make impact with the bags.
Now, on to the prospects.
Will Anderson, EDGE, Alabama, 6-foot-4, 245
One of the top-two defensive players in this draft cycle, if Anderson falls to the Lions, they’d be wise to select him as quickly as they did Penei Sewell and Aidan Hutchinson. In the Lions scheme, Anderson would play the same position as Hutchinson, but Anderson is so talented, he’s the type of player you adjust your scheme for. A combo of Hutchinson and Anderson would be the best duo of pass rushers the Lions have seen in quite some time.
More first round options
Tyree Wilson, EDGE, Texas Tech, 6-foot-6, 270
Wilson is a traits-based player right now, but his size/athleticism combo is rare, which is why it’s being rumored that some teams value him above Anderson. He is still developing in some areas, but the sky is the limit for him, which is a big reason—along with stylistic play—that he is being compared to Ezekiel Ansah.
Myles Murphy, EDGE, Clemson, 6-foot-5, 275
Murphy is still routinely being mocked to the Lions at pick No. 6, but he lacks the twitchiness that typically comes with a highly-rated edge rusher, which is why his stock has hit a speed bump as of late. Still, he’s surely a first-round caliber player—and probably won’t drop lower than the teens—because his physical stature and quick first step can be problems for offensive tackles.
Lukas Van Ness, Closed end, Iowa, 6-foot-5, 270
While Murphy’s stock is wavering, Van Ness’ stock is rapidly climbing. A power-based edge player, Van Ness would line up as the closed end opposite Hutchinson, with the range to kick inside on passing downs. His skill set will be similar to Cominsky and Josh Paschal, but Van Ness has the projectable talent to reach a higher developmental ceiling.
Keion White, Closed end, Georgia Tech, 6-foot-4, 283
White isn’t talked about a ton right now, but his stock is rising every day. At his size, if he tests at the Combine as anticipated, he will have a chance to raise his stock from top 25-50 to a legitimate first-rounder. Scheme flexible with a quick first step, power, and a high developmental floor, he’s going to be on a lot of radars in Indianapolis.
Closed end/Subpackage interior pass rushers
With the amount of subpackage work the Lions lean on their edge rushers for, it’s a good idea to take a closer look at a few players who are natural outside/inside players.
Mike Morris, Closed end/4i, Michigan, 6-foot-6, 292
A massive human, Morris has a rare size and athleticism combination and was Hutchinson’s replacement in Ann Arbor. The Lions’ biggest schematic weakness on defense is stopping the run, and Morris brings that skill to the table in spades. As a closed end, he is disciplined enough to set the edge, and can keep offenses honest when he pushes inside, as he can shut down rushing lanes there as well. A platoon of Paschal and Morris at closed end would be formidable.
Colby Wooden, Closed end/4i, Auburn, 6-foot-5, 285
Wooden’s worth ethic, character, and love of football will endure him to this coaching staff, much like Paschal did last season. The big difference between him and Morris is that Wooden is a more polished pass rusher and is highly successful rushing from the interior. In fact, he’s so good at rushing inside, I keep switching him back and forth between my edge rusher and interior defensive line groups because he might be better inside.
Adetomiwa Adebawore, Closed end/4i, Northwestern, 6-foot-2, 285
Adebawore will be lucky to crack 6-foot-2 at the Combine, which will lower his stock on some teams' draft boards, but he understands how to gain leverage at that height and he has the power to make an impact. Like Wooden, Adebawore may have a future inside at the 3-technique, but his flexibility to also play at closed end will make him valuable. His game against Ohio State spoke volumes.
The not-so-hidden gem
Andre Carter, EDGE, Army, 6-foot-6, 255
This year, the US Senate passed a bill that restricted players in the armed forces from joining a professional sports league before they had served their military responsibilities. Fortunately for Carter—who is expected to become the highest player ever drafted from Army—an amendment was added to the bill, allowing for Carter and other prospects in the military to be grandfathered in, thus making him eligible to defer his service to a later date.
While Carter is eligible to be drafted, when he will come off the board is up for debate. Some analysts believe his upside warrants a first-round selection, while others think he is too raw and will come off the board early on Day 3. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Carter does lack core football strength and can be bullied by bigger offensive tackles, but as he adds NFL strength, his upside looks like it’ll be worth waiting for. Likely a situational pass rusher in year one, he could be an impact player as early as year two.
This year’s James Houston
Yasir Abdullah, Pass rushing LB, Louisville, 6-foot-1, 235
Abdullah’s frame will present a problem for some teams. He’s not quite big enough to play outside in a 3-4, certainly not big enough to play defensive end in a 4-3, and not comfortable enough in space to play off the ball in a traditional linebacker role. But like James Houston—who is 6-foot-1, 244—Abdullah is a traffic pass rusher and possesses both power in his hands and quickness in his feet. His 59 pressures were third-best among college edge rushers in 2023 and just six behind Will Anderson.