Over the next few days, we’ll be previewing free agency by taking a look at the best players the Detroit Lions should consider at each position of need. We’ve already looked at the best free agent cornerback options, now it’s time to move to the defensive line and list off some defensive tackles the Lions should look at.
Movie stars will often say, “I’ll do two for you and one for me,” meaning they do two box office movies in order to raise money to do the project they really want to do. That doesn’t fully translate here, but the point I’m trying to make is that I’m picking this particular player for me.
Sheldon Rankins was once a guy that I really wanted the Lions to draft. That, of course, did not happen and Rankins spent much of his career making me feel even worse that it didn’t happen. Now he’s a free agent again, and the Lions should take themselves a shot at a player who’s still only 28 and is playing very well. Rankins ranked 22nd out of 141 defensive tackles by PFF this season
The good thing is there are a lot of connections here with Rankins and the Lions. He was on the Saints when Dan Campbell was the team’s assistant head coach and Aaron Glenn was the defensive backs coach. He also played with Alex Anzalone. There are enough guys in Detroit to talk him into making his way over from the Jets in March. I’m hoping the Lions get it done.
Billings is another guy that I was interested in the Lions taking in the same exact draft as Sheldon Rankins. That also did not happen and Billings also made me feel bad about it by being good ever since. Now the Lions have a shot at righting that wrong too.
Billings was the 16th best defensive tackle in the NFL this season per PFF. He didn’t fill up the stat sheet like Daron Payne or Rankings, but Billings does his job well. He’s a reliable nose tackle who could probably be had a cheaper rate than Rankings. I’m sure the Lions would like that about him.
Why not steal a guy from inside the division? Tomlinson is a little on the older side for my usual taste (29 years old) in free agent, but he’s a career starter whose play has not dipped in his six-year career. He spent the last two years with the Vikings and he caused a lot of trouble for opposing offensive lines. While he has pass rushing ability, it’s his run defense that can help the Lions the most. While his grading in that department has dipped a bit in recent years, he was once a guy that would regularly grade out in the elite range not too long ago.
The other good thing is that Tomlinson is that he can—and has—played all over the defensive line from edge to nose. That kind of adjustability makes him a weapon and would allow Aaron Glenn to get creative.
One note about Tomlinson, though, the Vikings recently moved the voided date of his contract to March 15. They are clearly trying to re-sign him, so he may not make it to free agency.
Here’s a much younger option for the Lions. Cardinals defensive tackle Zach Allen is just 25 years old. He can play multiple positions and do it well. Allen was the 24th ranked interior defensive lineman in the league per PFF with a 72.7 grade. The multiple positions thing is really the sell here. It’s almost like getting two players for the price of one. The Lions can move him around and still have the opportunity spend draft capital on the position.