The Detroit Lions are heading into a vital season on the field, and they could still have a fatal flaw on their roster in the form of a sagging defensive line.
Recently, Bleacher Report and Brent Sobleski took a look at naming the biggest red flag for each team. Unsurprisingly, the Detroit defensive front took the cake from the site once again, even after the team may have improved their overall defense heading into the season.
“A reworked secondary with Jeff Okudah, Desmond Trufant and Duron Harmon to go along with Jamie Collins Sr., Reggie Ragland and Danny Shelton in the front seven should improve pass coverage and run defense. Yet, the pass rush remains a concern.
Last year, Detroit tied for 29th with 28 sacks. Trey Flowers is the team’s returning sack leader with seven, but he’s most effective along the interior. No one else on the current roster managed more than two sacks last season.
Someone among Romeo Okwara, Jahlani Tavai and third-round rookie Julian Okwara will need to apply consistent edge pressure, or the Lions will almost certainly rank among the league’s worst again.”
There’s little doubt the Lions need some more depth along their defensive front, and at this point, without a signing, will be depending on multiple players from the roster to step up and deliver in order to salvage respectable results this year.
Detroit’s most consistent pass rusher from the last few years in Devon Kennard was unceremoniously released this offseason, meaning the pressure is on all the newcomers to step up and mitigate for his loss.
The Lions still have some great free agency options on the market, but don’t look desperate to sign any, which means they could be content to roll into the year with this group.
Lions Defense Upgraded This Offseason
One side of the ball that needed the most change was the defense. After a horrible pair of seasons under Matt Patricia, there’s already been some big changes on that side of the ball. How will that impact the team when all is said and done? The returns will be very positive according to a different piece.
In a piece breaking down some winners and losers of free agency, Pro Football Focus and writer Ben Linsey took a closer look at what the Lions have done, and found them to be a winner. Here’s a look at what he wrote on that:
“The spotlight is on Darius Slay, particularly after he publicly acknowledged last night that he wants out of Detroit, and as of Thursday morning, a deal has been put in place to send Slay to the Eagles. That is not ideal for the Lions. Despite the down year from a grading standpoint in 2019 (56.4 PFF grade), Slay remains one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL. During the five-year stretch from 2014 to 2018, he ranked eighth among qualifying cornerbacks in overall grade, and he routinely draws shadow assignments against the opposing team’s best wide receiver, making those results all-the-more impressive.
As all that trade speculation took place, the Lions went about improving their coverage to soften the blow of his inevitable loss. They signed former New England Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins, a player who has been outstanding in coverage and as a blitzer for New England over his career but struggled when traded to the Cleveland Browns. He’s an intriguing option for a Lions team that needed an injection of talent into their linebacking corps. The hope is that the transition to Matt Patricia’s defense is smoother than the one Collins made four seasons ago in Cleveland.
Detroit then addressed the secondary with two more moves, trading for Patriots safety Duron Harmon (shocker, I know) and signing former Atlanta Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant. Both players were drafted in 2013, and neither has recorded an overall grade of 65.0 or lower over the course of their NFL careers, rarely dipping below 70.0.
Harmon has been a rangy playmaker on the back end of the Patriots’ defense at free safety. He is one of just eight safeties with 10 or more regular-season interceptions over the past three seasons. Trufant is a 6-foot cornerback who came into the NFL with sub-4.4 speed, and he figures to fit well into a Lions defense that plays a lot of press-man coverage. He’s not quite the same player as Slay, but he has shown in Atlanta that he is fully capable of being the No. 1 guy on the outside. Both players, along with Collins, should improve the Lions coverage in 2020 despite the loss of their top player.”
Detroit made some draft picks to aid the spot with Jeff Okudah and Julian Okwara coming into the mix along with John Penisini. That group figures to play a role and could be better than many think. Safe to say that will have to be the case to avoid another last place finish.
Lions Named NFC North Free Agency Winner
Bleacher Report also sees the team as coming out ahead as a whole even in spite of not adding a big ticket pass rusher. The website revealed its winners of free agency from every division, and the Lions were the choice for the NFC North. Writer Maurice Moton likes what the Lions have been able to do thus far. Here’s a look at what he wrote:
“The Detroit Lions became the New England Patriots of the Midwest this week. The team signed linebacker Jamie Collins and defensive tackle Danny Shelton, who will likely replace Devon Kennard and A’Shawn Robinson, respectively. The front office also acquired Duron Harmon via trade.
Lions head coach Matt Patricia coached two of those players when he served as the defensive coordinator in New England. Clearly, the 45-year-old lead skipper will attempt to recreate what the Patriots had during his tenure with the club.
Collins can match Kennard’s impact near the pocket and provide more to the pass defense. In addition to seven sacks, he logged seven pass breakups and three interceptions during the 2019 term.
Shelton didn’t play under Patricia in New England, but he had his best season last term, registering career highs in sacks (three) and tackles (61) as a solid run-stopper with an occasional flash near the pocket. The 26-year-old should bolster the Lions’ 21st-ranked run defense.
Harmon has developed into a versatile safety with above-average ball skills in center field. Over the last three seasons, he’s recorded 10 interceptions in primarily a reserve role, though the 29-year-old has played at least 61 percent of the defensive snaps in each of those campaigns.
At safety, Harmon could alternate snaps with Will Harris alongside Tracy Walker.
Detroit lost multiple players in free agency and replaced them with guys who know Patricia’s scheme, which is crucial for a defense that ranked 26th in scoring and allowed the second-most yards last year.
The Lions released right tackle Rick Wagner and saved $6.1 million against the cap. The front office put that cash toward Halapoulivaati Vaitai’s five-year, $50 million deal. That’s a risky investment for a four-year veteran with just 20 starts, but the 6’6″, 320-pound tackle could seal the edge for outside runs and engulf edge-rushers on his side of the line.”
Detroit was busy in free agency this offseason, and obviously, the most active of all the teams in the division. This action might help the team be able to claim themselves as the best even in spite of their shortcomings.
Lions Free Agency Signings
The Lions have reached reported free agency agreements with offensive lineman Halapoulivaati Vaitai, linebacker Jamie Collins, quarterback Chase Daniel and defensive lineman Nick Williams. Additionally, they’ve added Danny Shelton, Desmond Trufant and Jayron Kearse. They signed linebacker Reggie Ragland and Elijah Lee as well as wideout Geronimo Allison. Cornerback Darryl Roberts has been added as well. Duron Harmon is coming in via trade. The group upgrades some important spots on the team, and will help the Lions boost the spots that are most needed for 2020. The Lions have managed to get things going quickly and effectively this offseason in free agency to be able to try and reshape their team.
The Lions could use a few more moves, and many think the biggest need remains along their defensive front for the year ahead.