2017 Season Position Overview: Depth Nonexistent On Defensive Line

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The Biggest Knack On The Defense In 2017 Was The Defensive Line, Here’s Why.

When looking at the defense for the Detroit Lions in 2017, things were above average overall. When looking at things position group by position group, the defensive line was the weakest of them all. Detroit was able to get help in the secondary in the draft with rookie cornerbacks Teez Tabor and Jamal Agnew. The linebackers were the main focal point of rebuilding over the 2017 offseason, so Detroit drafted rookie linebackers Jarrad Davis and Jalen Reeves-Maybin to help out the weak position.

The defensive line was seen as average coming into 2017, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata was back for another year, and defensive Kerry Hyder was coming off his best season, and defensive end Ziggy Ansah seemed to finally be healthy. As the season progressed, the defensive line was exposed as injuries occurred and with only one signing that was overhyped, they were seen as the true weakness of the defense once the 2017 season was over as the team finished in 20th in sacks, and 18th in rushing defense with 1,800 rushing yards allowed.

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Rough Start For Defensive Line With Hyder Out

After coming off a breakout 2016 season with eight sacks, Hyder was poised for an impressive 2017 season. That would all come to an end in the first preseason game of the year against the Indianapolis Colts. Hyder would tear his Achilles and miss the entire 2017 season.

With Hyder now out, another player needed to step up on the defensive line, and that player was the defensive end, Anthony Zettel. Zettel started all 16 games in 2017 and finish with six and a half sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery with 43 total tackles.

Zettel proved his worth as a sixth-round pick and with Hyder returning in 2018, head coach Matt Patricia will get to see both of these men and how they will perform after a good season and coming off a season-ending injury.

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A’Shawn Leads Defensive Line

Falling to the Lions in the second round in the 2016 draft, defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson was seen as the future of the defensive tackle position on the line. Robinson did well in 2016 and was promoted to the starting job in 2017. Robinson would finish the year with 43 total tackles, six pass deflections, a forced fumble, an interception that he would return for a touchdown, and half of a sack.

While his performance wasn’t earth-shattering, it was still good enough as Robinson is known as a run-stuffing defensive lineman. GM Bob Quinn added help at the defensive tackle position in the off-season and added Akeem Spence.

Spence would start in 11 games after Ngata would be injured for the rest of the season. Spence almost had a career year in Detroit, finishing with 39 total tackles, three sacks, and a forced fumble. Spence showed he could start in the NFL after seeing his playing time diminish after his rookie season in 2013.

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Ziggy Ansah’s Inconsistent Year Earns Return In 2018

The star of the defensive line, defensive end Ziggy Ansah, would have an inconsistent season in 2017. While he would only miss two games due to injuries, he showed some promise to become what he once was, a double-digit sack player and a force to be reckoned with on the line.

Ansah finished the 2017 season with 44 total tackles, 12 sacks, a forced fumble and fumble recovery. While he wasn’t back to his old self, Quinn thought he deserved another chance and franchise-tagged Ansah. Ansah will have to prove in 2018 that he will be worth the money if he wants an extension.

One of the many rookies to get some playing time, defensive tackle Jeremiah Ledbetter was able to play in nine games in 2017, finishing with 14 total tackles and half a sack. Look for him to possibly see more playing time next year.

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Haloti Ngata And Dwight Freeney Leave Holes On Defensive Line

The other biggest hit to the defensive line in 2017 was the loss of Ngata to a torn bicep. Ngata had seven total tackles, two sacks, and a pass deflection in the five games he started. His absence was seen as teams were able to run for more yards against the line when Ngata went down.

Now that Ngata has left and signed with the Eagles, one way of the Lions looking to fill the hole is by signing defensive tackle Sylvester Williams. While Williams won’t be the only addition to the line as the NFL draft is where the Lions look to get a majority of their help, his presence will help the defensive line out in 2018.

Another player who left was defensive end, Dwight Freeney. Freeney was brought in to help the battered defensive line and it was a waste. Freeney would play in five games but never appear on the stat sheet for Detroit. The Lions were hoping he would spark some kind of fire while with them, but father time seemed to have caught up with him.

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Behind Starters, Depth Lacking On Defensive Line In 2017

There were many different faces playing for Detroit along the defensive line in 2017. Defensive Cornelius Washington was the one to replace Ansah during the two games he missed. Washington finished with 26 total tackles, four pass deflections, and two and a half sacks. Washington may be faced with some competition before the 2018 season, so he will have to showcase his skill set and hope he can make the 53 man roster come September.

Another rookie defensive end Jeremiah Valoaga played in just nine games, finishing with five tackles and one sack. He had an impressive preseason that earned him a roster spot. Defensive end Alex Barrett was the final young rookie that played in only two games but didn’t show up on the stat sheet.

Finally, there was defensive tackle Christian Ringo who only saw action in six games and finished with three total tackles.


While letting Freeney go was the right move, so was letting Ngata walk. While the Lions did offer him the same deal as the Eagles, he wanted to win a championship and figured the Eagles were more favorable of an option. Detroit’s addition with Williams does help the team get better from its horrendous 2017 season, but it all comes down to the 2018 NFL Draft.

With defensive tackle Maurice Hurst from Michigan getting cleared to play after having a heart issue come up at the NFL Combine, he can now be added back to the board after getting removed. Look for Detroit to take a defensive lineman at 20 and with many good options available, they can certainly help fix what was the red flag of 2017.

Thanks for reading! Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @BKnappBlogs, find me on Reddit at /u/sportsguy4life and leave me your thoughts on the Detroit Lions subreddit.

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About the Author

Brandon Knapp
Brandon Knapp is a senior at Central Michigan University, majoring in Journalism, minoring in Sports Management. He was born and raised in the city of Marysville, MI. He also writes for myfantasysportstalk.com and covers the Michigan Wolverines Football team (his other love). Brandon also enjoys watching the Detroit Red Wings, Pistons and Tigers.