No pressure, Lions: Pass rush could use jolt in draft
Allen Park — Over the next several days, leading up to the NFL Draft, we’ll take a position-by-position look at the Detroit Lions’ roster situation and evaluate how the team might address these positions during the event. Today: Defensive end
■ Current roster: Ziggy Ansah, Kerry Hyder, Anthony Zettel, Cornelius Washington, Jeremiah Valoaga, Alex Barrett and Cam Johnson
■ Top prospects: Bradley Chubb, Marcus Davenport, Harold Landry
■ Day 2 options: Lorenzo Carter, Kemoko Turay, Sam Hubbard, Da’shawn Hand, Rasheem Green, Arden Key, Josh Sweat
■ Late-round fits: Leon Jacobs, Dorance Armstrong, Jalyn Holmes, Joe Ostman
■ Short-term need: Five out of 10
■ Long-term need: 10 out of 10
■ Analysis: If a defense can’t consistently pressure the passer in the NFL, odds are the unit is going to struggle overall. The Detroit Lions finished near the bottom of the NFL in quarterback hurries and sacks last season and subsequently ranked 27th in total defense, 21st in scoring defense and 28th in red zone defense.
So we’re going out on the sturdiest of limbs when we say the team could use some juice on the edge in this upcoming draft.
That’s not to say the team’s current roster is devoid of talent and potential. Ziggy Ansah returns after closing last season with a flurry of sacks, a potential precursor that he is capable of returning to his 2015 form, when he dropped opposing quarterbacks 14.5 times.
Also back is Kerry Hyder, who enjoyed a breakout season in 2016, before an Achilles tear in the preseason sidelined him all of last year. If he’s anywhere close to the same player he was pre-injury, the boost he can provide shouldn’t be understated.
The rotation is rounded out by Anthony Zettel and Cornelius Washington. Zettel enjoyed a breakout of his own last year and is an ascending talent who should be able to build on his 6.5 sacks, while Washington provides a sturdy edge setter who serves an underrated role against the run.
But you never can have enough pass rushers, and with Ansah operating on a franchise tag, destined to hit the open market next offseason, the Lions should jump at the possibility of getting a potential future starter early in the draft — assuming one is still there at No. 20, when the team is slated to make its first selection.
UTSA’s Marcus Davenport and Boston College’s Harold Landry would top the wish list.
Comparing Davenport to Ansah wouldn’t be too wide of the mark. Entering the league, both offered prototypical builds, elite athleticism, but raw talent. It’s easy to forget, Ansah only had 4.5 sacks during his college career. Davenport racked up 21, including 15 the past two seasons, but against a lower level of competition. His technique will need refinement to port that success to the next level.
Landry offers a different skill set. The 6-foot-3, 252-pounder isn’t likely to be as well-rounded as Davenport, but the former disrupts the pocket with an explosive first step that makes it seem like he was spring-loaded into his stance.
If either make it to the Lions, they would be tough to pass up. And the team benefits from having both players’ college position coaches from last season on Matt Patricia’s defensive staff.
But in the possible scenario where both are gone, or the Lions have an opportunity to select a player higher on their draft board at a different position, there should be options on Day 2.
Ohio State’s Sam Hubbard is the solid, not spectacular all-around option, while Georgia’s Lorenzo Carter is the best athlete in the class — even more so than Davenport — but needs to add weight to his 6-foot-6, 250-pound frame.
LSU’s Arden Key would be a value pick if he falls all the way to 51, where the Lions select in the second round. Or Alabama’s Da’Shawn Hand, a former 5-star recruit, would provide more of a big-bodied 3-4 end for Patricia’s multiple front who also would give the Lions the ability to replace Washington this year and save some cap space.
However the draft plays out, the Lions would be wise to find a way to come out it with a quality defensive end. An addition at the position isn’t mission critical to fill an immediate need, but is of vital importance to the team’s long-term outlook up front.
Retaining Ansah, or securing a one-for-one replacement in free agency next year, is likely to cost north of $15 million per season. Being able to draft and develop would give the franchise an option with a far more reasonable price tag, providing greater cap flexibility to bolster the roster at multiple other spots.
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