Here at Pride of Detroit, it has become an annual tradition to run these “Why the Detroit Lions should draft...” articles in the days leading up to the NFL Draft. It’s a fun way to see differing points of view on the Lions’ strategy while also highlighting the fact that sometimes there are multiple right answers to a question.
Inside this tradition is another tradition: I take the guy that no one else wants to write about. I find it to be a thrilling exercise. I use it as a challenge to make an argument for a player who may not be my first, second, or third choice. And here’s the thing: I’ve crushed it in the past few years. Last year, I made the argument for cornerback Sauce Gardner, and the year before that, I argued for Micah Parsons. That’s right, I’ve tallied back-to-back Defensive Rookies of the Year.
This year, I was certain I was going to have to do running back Bijan Robinson, but Morgan Cannon spared me of that. Instead, I may just have to tally my third consecutive Defensive Rookie of the Year: Texas Tech’s Tyree Wilson
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There is not a prospect in this entire draft at maybe any position who is built more prototypically than Tyree Wilson. Here are some of the—borderline creepy—things people have said about Wilson’s build:
“Looks like a yoked-up Captain America with his muscular, broad-shouldered frame”
“Tyree Wilson is what would happen if you built an edge rusher in a lab.”
“It’s nearly impossible not to be awestruck by the tools Wilson possesses. At 6’6″, 271 pounds, with arms nearly 36″ long, Wilson has an outrageously large and dense frame with a dominating wingspan.”
He towers over everyone to the point that you can’t convince me he’s not actually three edge rushers standing on each other’s shoulders in a football uniform.
What does that actually look like and translate to on the field? It’s a 6-foot-6, 271-pound man with a wingspan (84.5 inches) only matched by a single edge defender in this entire draft class. The arm-length allows him to disengage from blocks with ease and drive opposing tackles back.
And the size allows him to win with power consistently.
Tyree Wilson has the highest ceiling in this D-Line class. His arm length and wing span give him an advantage as a pass rusher. I believe he even has the flexibility to get bigger and be a 5 tech or 3-4 end because of his play strength and spilting double teams @CBSSportsHQ pic.twitter.com/sFtT7z8Uxt— Leger Douzable (@LegerDouzable) April 21, 2023
And while foot surgery robbed us of the opportunity to get measurables on his speed, believe me: it’s there. Some have questioned his ability to bend the edge—a critical component to be a true menace as a pass rusher—and I’ll admit, that ability hasn’t shown up a ton on tape. However, he played a lot of his ball inside in Texas Tech’s 3-3-5 scheme and didn’t get as many opportunities as other edge players in this class. His bend shows up every now and then—enough to convince NFL Films superstar Greg Cosell that it’s something that can be worked on and developed.
“While his game, right now, is probably built a little more on strength and power and relentlessness, there are more than enough flashes of bend and flexibility to lead you to believe that he can become a more complete edge player,” Cosell recently said on the Ross Tucker podcast.
I like Tyree Wilson way more as a mismatch 4-tech, especially on passing downs. When a DL of his size can dip and bend the way that Wilson can, he’s chaotic and difficult for any IOL to square up. pic.twitter.com/ldGttyHThM— PJ Moran (@PJonDraft) March 22, 2023
Lack of production? Nah.
There is a perception out there that Tyree Wilson is all traits and no production. Let me be the first to tell you that is poppycock.
His 7.0 sacks in back-to-back seasons may be a little underwhelming compared to the production of Will Anderson (27.5 sacks in the last two seasons)—especially when you consider the level of competition. But repeat it with me: Sacks. Aren’t. Everything.
Last year, Wilson produced 50 pressures in just 10 games, per PFF. Only three players in the country produced more pressures per game than that. He finished 10th in the country in PFF’s pass rush win rate (minimum 200 snaps). He’s also a tremendous run defender, producing PFF’s eighth-highest run-stop rate.
Why the Lions are going to love him
Wilson may not have made our GRIT Index as a Dan Campbell character fit, but I would argue he probably belongs there. In Brugler’s draft guide, he called him a “confident leader” for Texas Tech who was “extremely well respected by his teammates.” And here’s what Texas Tech beat writer Chris Level said about Wilson’s practice habits:
“He’s a big human with with a really big presence about him. Doesn’t say a ton, always smiling. And he practices as hard on a Tuesday as he plays on a Saturday and I think that’s what the NFL folks really, really like about him.”
“You ask people around here, yeah, we’re going to miss the production, but we’re going to miss his presence, you know? And I think that that’s an intangible that I don’t think a lot of people think about but I think he certainly brings that in a locker room and on the practice field and things like that.”
Additionally, Wilson’s versatility and balance in the run and pass game will make him a chess piece for defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn to use on any down in any situation. He’s capable of being disruptive in the middle on early downs and holding the edge out wide. He has plenty of experience both in two and three-point stances. And he’s only going to get better as a pure pass rusher.
One big concern
The one thing Wilson will have to clean up is his get-off time. For whatever reason, Wilson is consistently late off the snap. Josh Paschal had a similar issue in college. Wilson got away with it in college because he’s still an explosive athlete and can make up for it with a quick first step. That won’t fly as easily in the NFL.
Personally, I don’t know if this is an innate reaction time problem or something that is coachable and fixable, but it’s a serious enough issue that it needs to be addressed one way or the other.
Overall, though, Wilson is an easy prospect to get excited about. His potential is through the roof, but even that feels like a backhanded compliment. He can make an impact today. I don’t like the Ezekiel Ansah comparisons he keeps getting, because Ansah was far more raw. Wilson has years of productive play under his belt and would come in Day 1 as an above-average run defender with already a decent array of pass rushing moves. If he cleans up his technique and learns some tricks on timing the snap, he could very well be the reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year at this time next year.