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2023 Detroit Lions roster preview: Christian Covington was a low-key important signing

Christian Covington may not be the DT signing many Detroit Lions fans were hoping for, but he could play an important role in 2023.

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Seattle Seahawks Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

All offseason, many circled defensive tackle as one of the Detroit Lions’ biggest needs. However, the Lions didn’t make any splashy moves there. Outside of spending a late third-round pick on a defensive tackle, the Lions only invested in the position by re-signing players from last year’s roster.

That is until the Lions signed Christian Covington in May. Fans were probably hoping for a more significant move at defensive tackle, but Covington could play a pretty important role with the defense this year.

Previous roster previews: Aidan Hutchinson, Jameson Williams, Josh Paschal, Kerby Joseph, James Mitchell, Malcolm Rodriguez, James Houston, Chase Lucas, Obinna Eze, Greg Bell, Penei Sewell, Levi Onwuzurike, Alim McNeill, Ifeatu Melifonwu, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Derrick Barnes, Jermar Jefferson, Brock Wright, Jerry Jacobs, Cameron Sutton, Emmanuel Moseley, David Montgomery, Graham Glasgow, C.J. Gardner-Johnson, Marvin Jones Jr., and Jalen Reeves-Maybin.

Christian Covington

Actual role in 2022 (with Chargers)

4 games (0 starts): 124 defensive snaps, 18 special teams snaps
Stats: 12 tackles, 1 TFL
PFF special teams grade: 71.8 (47th out of 102 STers with at least 300 snaps)
PFF defense grade: 34.7
PFF run defense grade: 30.0
PFF pass rush grade: 56.6

After tallying a career-high 52 tackles with the Chargers in 2021, Covington re-signed to a one-year deal in Los Angeles during the first week of free agency.

Covington did not make the original 53-man roster for Los Angeles, but he was quickly signed to the active roster after Week 1. It’s entirely possible the Chargers did this to avoid making Covington’s salary guaranteed, as all veteran players get if they’re on the Week 1 roster.

“We think a lot of Christian and we think he’s a really valuable contributor to our front, as we do with Breiden (Fehoko),” Chargers coach Brandon Staley said. “As you guys know, it was very competitive for that spot, and we see both of those guys as assets for our football team. And just felt like for this week that this would be the best decision. Excited that we’re able to have him on our team.”

After two weeks on the inactive list—with no injury—Covington finally made his 2022 debut in Week 4 against the Texans and again in Week 5 vs. the Browns.

However, in the following two weeks, against more pass-heavy teams with mobile quarterbacks (Broncos, Seahawks), the Chargers opted to activate rookie fifth-round defensive tackle Otito Ogbonnia instead.

Covington made it back onto the gameday roster in Weeks 9 and 10 and had an elevated role on the defense. But on Week 10, the Chargers, unfortunately, lost Covington for the season with a torn pectoral muscle.

Outlook for 2023

Covington didn’t sign with the Lions until May, which likely has to do with his pectoral recovery. A torn pectoral typically takes between 2-4 months to recover from, and Covington suffered his injury in mid-November.

But when he joined the team, he was almost immediately thrown into the first-string defense at the start of OTAs in late May.

As an eight-year NFL veteran, Covington brings some experience to a room that features third-year player Alim McNeill and rookie Brodric Martin.

“Covington’s a worker,” coach Dan Campbell said. “He’s done it, he’s seen it, all those.”

But what does Covington bring to the field? At 6-foot-2, 289 pounds, he’s not a nose tackle. But for most of his career, he’s been a better run stuffer than a pass rusher. He only has 21 career quarterback hits and 9.5 sacks. That said, he should be relatively comfortable in the Lions' defense, as their front is similar to what Staley does in Los Angeles.

Covington’s roster spot is far from guaranteed here in Detroit. Alim McNeill, Isaiah Buggs, and rookie Brodric Martin are essentially locks to make the roster. But Martin may have a long learning curve coming from Western Kentucky, and the rest of Detroit’s interior line depth—Benito Jones and the oft-injured Levi Onwuzurike—doesn’t provide much comfort.

For a team that has publicly said they want to lower Buggs’ playing time from last season, the Lions could be looking to give Covington some playing time early on while Martin adapts to the NFL. And given that he was already taking first-team reps in the spring, Detroit clearly thinks he’s capable of stepping in right away.

Should we expect Covington to be an absolute beast and game-changer for a defensive front that struggled at multiple points last season? Probably not. However, he could provide some experience to the unit, which will keep other players fresh and allow the Lions’ young players time to develop. That may not seem essential to a team, but it is important.

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