Lions Free Agency Preview: Ex-Top Pick Could Provide Value Pass Rush

Jadeveon Clowney

Getty Jadeveon Clowney salutes after a Browns game in 2021.

When the Detroit Lions start to think about how to change their fortunes for the future, a major theme the team needs to get behind is the idea that a beefed up pass rush should be paramount for the team.

In the last few years, the Lions have not gotten after the quarterback whatsoever. The need to do that is at an all-time high across the NFL. Finding players who can pressure the pocket is a huge goal for any team, and it needs to be an even bigger goal for the Lions considering how woeful they have been at doing just that in recent years.

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While the free agency class may not be that deep in 2022 at the spot, there are still solid players the Lions should target to help their goal of creating more havoc in the pocket for 2022 and beyond.

Here’s a closer look at the free agent defensive ends that make sense for the Lions in free agency. Be sure to check back in the coming days for a look at more free agents at other spots which make sense for Detroit in 2022.

Takkarist McKinley, Edge, Atlanta Falcons

A former first-round pick at 27 in 2017 out of UCLA, McKinley is a player who came into the league with many expectations and much fanfare as it relates to becoming a stud. That didn’t happen immediately for him, leading some to proclaim McKinley a bust. In his NFL career, he has produced only 97 tackles and 20 total sacks. He wanted out of Atlanta, then made his way to Las Vegas, where he was not able to be on the field thanks to injury. McKinley signed with Cleveland in 2021, where he posted just 1.5 sacks this past season.

Here’s a look at some of McKinley’s best work:

VideoVideo related to lions free agency preview: ex-top pick could provide value pass rush2022-03-10T09:43:04-05:00

In college, McKinley was one of the more explosive rushers, so he has a track record to rely on. Whether or not he can get back to that level remains to be seen, but the Lions could be a team that offers him a chance to do this. He could become this year’s Charles Harris.

Jadeveon Clowney, Defensive End, Cleveland Browns

Since being a top draft pick in 2014, Clowney has had an up and down career and has not found a place where he could really settle in. Perhaps that changes with Detroit, and the team can offer him a soft landing spot where he can revive his career. The numbers have been good with stops in Houston, Seattle and most recently Cleveland, with Clowney putting up 292 total tackles, 41 sacks and 1 interception. Here’s a look at what he has done thus far in his career:

Jadeveon Clowney FULL 2019 HighlightsEvery highlight from Jadeveon Clowney's 2019-2020 NFL season! Subscribe for more highlights!2020-03-16T17:02:47Z

With the Lions, Clowney could be an underrated addition. He wouldn’t have to be the guy, but simply one of many guys who rush the passer. Combined with a younger defensive end, his addition could be a big win for a Detroit team that badly needs them at this point in time up front. At 29, he is still young enough to make a big difference.

Dante Fowler Jr., Defensive End, Atlanta Falcons

No matter where he has played, Fowler has been an active player through the years, racking up 35 career sacks and 200 tackles. In 2019 alone, Fowler accounted for 11.5 sacks for the Rams. Brad Holmes will know him from being in the Los Angeles program then, which makes him an intriguing possible addition for the team. Fowler most recently played in Atlanta, where he put up 7.5 sacks in the last two seasons. Here’s a sampling of his work:

Dante Fowler 2020 Atlanta Falcons Highlights“Just a motor, a motor for the whole 60 minutes,” Fowler said of what he brings to the Falcons. “Rushing the passer is a privilege. In order to do that, you’ve got to be able to stop the run on first and second down. And I take a lot of pride in that, too. I…2021-05-19T04:25:54Z

Fowler is an interesting player for the Lions given his age (27) and experience in the league in a short amount of time. If the Lions managed to sign him, that would have to be considered a major win for the front of the line considering how he has done in recent years.

Akiem Hicks, Defensive Line, Chicago Bears

Hicks isn’t a defensive end, but he does play a bevy of roles up front in Chicago and has been a thorn in the entire side of the division for the last handful of years. With the Bears, Hicks has put up solid numbers, with 387 tackles and 40.5 sacks. He has versatility and can play in the middle or the edge of the line, which could make him a great fit for Detroit. Here’s a look at some of his highlights:

Akiem Hicks || "Purple Lamborghini" || Official Highlights ᴴ ᴰThis dude is the heart and soul of the Chicago Bears. "TIME TO LET THE DOGS OFF THE LEASH". Thanks for bringing the energy every night Akiem Follow me on Insta! @dawindycityprodz For inquiries: dawindycityprodz@gmail.com2019-03-19T19:58:46Z

Subtracting Hicks in Chicago would not only be a blow to the Bears, but it would serve as a boost to the Lions. To that end, this is something the team has to consider in a major way moving forward for their future. Hicks could give the Detroit line a good veteran presence in 2022.

Charles Harris, Defensive End, Detroit Lions

Harris was a former first-round pick out of Missouri back in 2017, and while he might not have lived up to the grade with the Dolphins, it’s clear he does offer some upside in the trenches. Harris has 6.5 career sacks, but 3 of those came when he was playing with the Falcons during the 2020 season. Harris also had put up 79 tackles, 4 passes defended and 1 fumble recovery in his career before joining the Lions.

Harris has yet to show signs of being a consistently elite pass rusher in the NFL throughout his early career, but managed to offer the Lions some help off the edge given the major need Detroit has at the spot. The Lions re-made their defense this past offseason, and in previous years the team did not show an ability to get after the quarterback. Harris helped that disappear himself with 7.5 sacks for the team during the 2021 season.

Here’s a look at his best work in Detroit so far from last year:

OLB Charles Harris Highlights | 2021 SeasonWatch highlights of Detroit Lions outside linebacker Charles Harris from the 2021 season. Subscribe to the Lions YT Channel: More Lions NFL Action: #DetroitLions #Lions #NFL Keep up-to-date on all things Lions: Visit Follow: Follow: Like:

It’s obvious how Harris has already helped the Lions, and obvious to others how improved he really was on the field. For that reason, he makes the cut as a player the team could target for a return.

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