Lions Sign Former 3rd Round Pick to Defensive Line

Will Clarke

Getty Will Clarke leaves the field for the Bengals.

The Detroit Lions are looking for some additional help on defense to rush the passer, and may have found some good depth on the market.

Sunday, the team revealed they had signed defensive end Will Clarke. They revealed as part of the swap, they were releasing offensive lineman Caleb Benenoch.

Benenoch was a competitor at guard, so the fact the Lions are letting him go could only point to the good job the rookies have done at that spot so far this offseason and the depth the team has. Conversely, adding Clarke might mean the team is looking for some extra help on defense and especially up front.

Will Clarke Stats

While playing for West Virginia, Clarke was a second team All Big 12 player which led him to being drafted in the 3rd round of the 2014 draft by the Bengals. After 3 years there, he spent a pair with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and most recently was playing for the St. Louis BattleHawks of the XFL. In his career, Clarke has put up 7 sacks 37 tackles and 2 fumble recoveries in the NFL.

With the limited time he has, Clarke will need to make an impact to stay on the roster. There’s a possibility, however, considering Detroit’s weakness on the end rushing the passer.

Lions Defensive Line Called Glaring Weakness for 2020

Which spot on the Detroit defense has been the most disappointing in recent years? It’s a question that’s fairly easy to answer if you’re a fan of the Lions considering the biggest problem the past few years has been rushing the passer and stopping the run up front. That points to a familiar need for the team that may have still yet to be filled. That could remain the case this offseason.

Recently, Conor Orr of Sports Illustrated took a look at naming all the biggest needs still left for teams in the NFC. When it came to the Lions, there was a familiar spot of the defensive line

Orr wrote:

“This includes the Lions’ pass rush, which accumulated a league-worst 24% pass rush win rate and a less than ideal 21st in rushing yards surrendered. The Lions also parted ways with Damon Harrison, quite possibly the single most dominant run stopping force in the NFL over the past 10 years. This is not a team that can be fixed with the addition of one player, though the Lions’ coaching staff is certainly drafting that way.”

Detroit added Danny Shelton this offseason and drafted Julian Okwara and John Penisini, but in the mind of Orr that’s not enough to get the Lions over the hump. The Lions still have options on the market like Everson Griffen and Jabaal Sheard which could add some punch to the front, and they are hoping for a bigger season out of Trey Flowers.

Still, it does feel there is a little something left to be desired here.

Analysts Not Sure Lions Defense Fixed Enough

Many fans and pundits would think the team’s defense would have improved, but it might not be the case if Bleacher Report is to be believed. Recently, the site power ranked every team’s defense following the biggest moves of the offseason, and the Lions didn’t place highly whatsoever. Detroit’s defense was bad last season, but according to Martin Fenn, the improvements they have made have been minimal.

The Lions placed 29th on the list, with only 3 defenses in the league worse at this point.

Here’s a look at what Fenn wrote about why:

“The Lions made the best decision for their defense by staying at the No. 3 spot in the draft and selecting Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah, who was dominant during his tenure with the Buckeyes. According to Pro Football Focus, he allowed first downs on just 20 percent of all targets at the outside corner since 2018. He also dominated in press coverage, making him the perfect replacement for Darius Slay.

Detroit also signed former Atlanta Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant earlier in the offseason while acquiring ball-hawking safety Duron Harmon from the New England Patriots.

The problem is, the secondary figures to see a ton of action due to a relatively lackluster pass rush. The Lions cut edge-rusher Devon Kennard and defensive tackle Damon “Snacks” Harrison, but the only move they made to upgrade the line was signing former Pats defensive tackle Danny Shelton.

Shelton was a run-stuffing machine for New England last year, and perhaps the Lions are counting on the additions of linebackers Jamie Collins and Reggie Ragland to help against the run as well. Still, they don’t have much of a pass rush outside of Trey Flowers, which does not bode well for the overhauled secondary. Collins did have seven sacks last season, but he will be 31 in October, and the Lions might need him to be more of a cover backer.

Third-round draft pick Julian Okwara might be able to help set the edge, but the Lions ranked 29th in passing DVOA last year, and the relative shortage of pass-rushing threats will test Detroit’s secondary once again.”

Detroit has added plenty to the mix in both free agency and the draft but clearly not enough to move the needle as Fenn is concerned in terms of a turnaround. Obviously, the Lions need to prove such rankings lists wrong considering how important 2020 is for everyone on the team.

It will be interesting to see if Clarke is enlisted to help them do that for the regular season.

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