By Ash Thompson
In this series, I’ll be looking at the Lions position-by-position, analyzing their strengths and weaknesses and looking at what options are available in free agency. Join me as I break down the first position I’ll be looking at…
The Lions currently have a pair of promising pass rushers on the roster in Ziggy Ansah and Devin Taylor, who combined for 21.5 sacks – half of the team’s total. Taylor emerged as the season went on as a reliable passing down option across from Ansah, taking advantage of the focus other teams placed on the former number five overall pick. Taylor stepped up in the second half of the year in a way that the rest of the team’s linemen had not been able to up to that point. Like a lot of Lions defenders that were not getting snaps early in the year, Taylor made a significant case for a bigger role next season. Other than that the Lions have, well….. nobody.
Jason Jones, the run stuffing end who kicks inside to play three technique on some passing downs is a free agent, and given that the Lions’ new GM came up in the Patriots organization there is no guarantee that a free agent over 30 will be back – they have a history of letting guys go about ten seconds before they can’t play. Daryll Tapp, the Lions’ other defensive end who fits the versatile inside and outside rusher model is also a free agent. He is a much less expensive option than Jones to fill the role, but also much less talented. This role is a key component of Austin’s defensive scheme, allowing him to keep his defensive tackles rested, in case they are needed late in the game to stop a team from running out the clock, as well as to get the specialist pass rushers (like Taylor this season, and George Johnson in 2014), on the field when they’re needed. The Lions need a run stuffing defensive end or two who can move inside on passing downs, or they need to change their scheme significantly.
Assuming that they are not planning on changing the scheme of a defense that has performed well when fully stocked and reasonably healthy, here are my top five free agent options for the Detroit Lions at the defensive end position. The list is what I would consider to be four home runs – established pros who could definitely fill the role – and one dark horse, a guy that is a lot less sure, but would be a bargain if he panned out.
Free Agency Defensive End Options:
#1 – Derrick Shelby, Miami Dolphins
In the first half of the season he was playing run downs on the left side of the defense for the Dolphins, with Cameron Wake playing primarily on passing downs he had more snaps than Wake at the time of the injury. He’s not an elite pass rusher, actually he’s not even a good pass rusher, but after Wake went down he did manage 3.5 sacks. At 26 years old he could be a similar player for the Lions as Jones has been.
#2 – Jason Jones, Detroit Lions
He has the advantage of being a successful known quantity, which should not be underestimated. The Lions coaches know exactly what he brings to the table, and he fits the role perfectly. The only wild card here is whether the new GM wants him.
#3 – Jared Crick, Houston Texans
As a DE in the Houston scheme he is a little undersized for the 3-4 DE role, but still managed to be in the 50 tackle range both of the last two years on a team relatively rich in solid defenders. He’s not a great pass rusher but that’s not what he’s being brought in to do, that’s what we have Devin Taylor for – to come in and give a guy like Jared a break, so that when the heavy lifting begins, Jared crick is there to stop the Vikings from running out the clock in the fourth quarter.
#4 – Adrian Clayborne, Atlanta Falcons
After a disappointing run in Tampa Bay, riddled with injuries, Clayborne has reinvented himself in Atlanta’s defense performing well in exactly the role Jones and Tapp have been playing for Detroit – and when free agency begins, he’ll be available. When healthy he was a younger and more explosive player than Jones, but he has missed a lot of time with injuries over his career – it’s a high risk/reward play.
#5 – The sleeper, David King, Kansas City
The deepest of sleeper picks, this guy played inside and out for Oklahoma in college. Drafted in 2013 by the eagles in the sevinth round, he’s never really found a regular role with a team, at 26 hoping that he suddenly develops is a long shot, but if the lions were looking to replace Daryll Tapp with a player that fits the role from a physical perspective, King is definitely the right combination of size and athletic profile to be this guy. He’s an exclusive rights free agent, so my hopes and dreams from the 2013 draft that the Lions take this guy late are probably not coming true. I think he’s been miscast as a 3-4 DE.
So there you have it, the Detroit Lions have options at the defensive end spot, and none of them are going to be heavy salary cap hits. The Lions don’t need to chase after the Olivier Vernons, Jason Pierre-Pauls, Greg Hardys, or the Robert Ayers’, they’ve already got their premier pass rushing end, and a secondary rusher to pair with him. These guys, all available in free agency, will come at half the price, and fill the role that the team needs in reality, if not exactly improving the Lions overall rating in the next iteration of Madden. I’ll lose every game I play this year with an ear to ear smile on my face if it means AP runs for less than 100 yards over two games against the Lions next year.
The Lions do have holes that they need to break the bank for, and in the next part of this series I’ll be going over one of them: offensive tackle.
Want to let me know what an idiot I am? I’m not hard to find on Reddit, and I’ll also be shooting random (or sometimes not at all random) thoughts out all over Twitter moving forward @a5hcrack. All this week I’ll be perusing #mayhewsucked, make me laugh or cry with your reasons that….. Mayhew sucked, and you get a retweet, my favorite five entries get shout outs in a future article.