While Detroit Fans Worry About The Defensive Line, They Are Missing Out On What They Already Have.
After the 2016 season concluded, Detroit was in need of help on the defensive line. Devin Taylor was playing in his contract year and would want too much money in the Lions eyes. Tyrunn Walker wasn’t the same player he once was, so rookie A’Shawn Robinson had to step up and take over.
Detroit made some additions during the 2017 offseason, drafting Pat O’Connor and Jeremiah Ledbetter and signing free agents Akeem Spence, Jordan Hill, and Cornelius Washington.
2017 was going to be a better year for the defensive line, despite the lack of star studded additions, then things took a bump in the road. Khyri Thornton failed a drug test and was suspended for six games, losing a depth defensive tackle for a good chunk of the season.
Then a month later, Armonty Bryant, a defensive end that was released from Cleveland after getting suspended for four games to start out the 2016 season. Detroit signed him and would be suspended for three games in Detroit. Despite the two suspensions in 2016, Detroit brought him back and he would get suspended again, as he will miss the first four games of this season.
So to start off the 2017 campaign, Detroit is down two defensive lineman. Then during the first preseason game against the Colts, Kerry Hyder, the man who lead the team in sacks last year with eight, tore his Achilles and the team announced he will miss the entire 2017 season. Then later in the game, linebacker/defensive end Brandon Copeland would tear his pec, forcing him to miss the entire 2017 season as well.
So Detroit thought they were going to upgrade with their additions coming into the new season, now they are taking steps back. Luckily for them though, the player that they need is already on the team and has been impressing through two games this preseason and in camp, Anthony Zettel.
Anthony Zettel Could Start Come Week One
The stats may not be eye-popping, but Zettel could start week one for the Lions. While he is playing the end position that Ziggy Ansah normally plays, Ansah looks to be back for week one and with that, it pushes Zettel to the other side. Zettel started against the Colts and Jets so far in the preseason, so the team seems to have faith in him so far. In those two games, he only has four tackles and a QB hit, but he has been pushing offensive lineman back, sometimes even with one arm.
Another good thing about Zettel is his versatility, he can play end or tackle. Since entering the league last season, he has played end, but if the team needs help at tackle he could swing that way. With the depth at the end position being weaker than the tackle spot as of right now, expect him to stay at the end spot.
Where Did Zettel Even Come From?
He has been lurking in the shadows since getting drafted last season. Zettel was a sixth round draft pick out of Penn State, where he had a good career, finishing with 119 total tackles, 20 sacks, 14 pass deflections, four interceptions, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. He is ranked 10th in Penn State history in tackles for loss with 38 and was the first defensive lineman at Penn State since 1959 with at least three interceptions in a season.
His NFL career hasn’t been vastly impressive so far, as in his rookie year last season, he finished with 10 tackles, three assisted tackles, and a sack. He also helped the Lions get the win against the Eagles, as during the fumble that was forced by Darius Slay, the ball was rolling out of bounds, meaning that the ball would be ruled dead and still in Philidelphias hands. Zettel slid and pushed the ball backwards, keeping it inbounds and letting his teammates recover it.
What Happens In 2018?
Ziggy Ansah is the biggest question mark for the defensive line in 2018. If he leaves the team, the defensive line will take a big hit as Haloti Ngata has already said that the 2017 season will be his last. Detroit could lose two starters to begin 2018, and if that happens you better believe Bob Quinn will be looking at defensive lineman in the first two rounds of the 2018 draft.
Kerry Hyder is an ERFA, an exclusive rights free agent, meaning the team can offer Hyder the minimum amount for one year, or he can not play at all. So Hyder will be back, which is good to hear, but he may not be the same after that Achilles injury. If the team doesn’t want to deal with Bryant’s actions anymore, they won’t bring him back. Washington, Spence, Thornton, would be returning vets. If O’Connor and Ledbetter make the roster this season, they will be back in 2018. That leaves just two undrafted free agents that could stay on the roster in 2018 if they make the roster in 2017, Alex Barrett and Jeremiah Valoaga.
Overall, Detroit will need someone to step up in 2017 at the defensive end position, and Anthony Zettel seems to be answering the call so far.