If you experienced déjà vu when the Lions mortgaged a 2019 third-round pick to draft Alabama defensive lineman Da’Shawn Hand with the 114th overall selection, you’re not alone. In Martin Mayhew’s own Battle of the Little Bighorn, he traded the team’s 2016 third to take Auburn’s Gabe Wright…
With the 114th overall selection.
But, despair not. Even though Gabe Wright was cut following his rookie season, the two moves are completely unrelated. (And, if it makes you feel any better, the pick Mayhew traded eventually became the 77th overall pick, which eventually became cornerback Daryl Worley, who was eventually traded for an impending cap casualty, before eventually getting into an altercation with the police and being cut by his new team.)
Hand is a two-time national champion who moved up and down the defensive line for Nick Saban and, at one point, new Lions defensive line coach Bo Davis. He was most commonly deployed as a 4i or 5-technique in a gap control scheme that Hand himself said resembles what Detroit will run in 2018.
And just as Alabama’s scheme has prepared him for life in the pro ranks, so has their strength and conditioning program. Hand boasts great length (34 3/8”) that serves well at either tackle or end, but he’s no Slenderman. At 6’4”, 297 lbs., Hand possesses a well-muscled build equipped to handle life in the trenches. Although he functioned primarily as a base end in odd fronts, I think his athletic profile lends itself best to the 3-tech spot. He has good quickness and lower body explosion with adequate agility and bend for a man his size.
The first thing that stands out about Hand is his mental processing ability, which he showcased from a variety of alignments. Quick diagnosis of run schemes coupled with good peripheral vision and a keen sense of pressure allowed him to play assignment-sound football at the point of attack. He also demonstrated good lateral quickness to stay ahead of reach blocks and flow down the line of scrimmage to maintain gap responsibility on the backside of zone runs. But, most of all, I really liked his ability to anchor against double teams and deny opposing linemen vertical displacement in man and gap concepts. That play strength, which was very good for the college level, should translate to the NFL.
Much like his teammate, A’shawn Robinson, Hand is very good in pursuit. His movement skills allow him to mirror backs in a phone booth and he has an excellent tackling radius thanks to his length and lower-body explosiveness. Furthermore, he brings the thunder as both a down-the-line tackler and a pass rusher. For these reasons, Hand should be able to contribute immediately in the run game as a rookie.
However, his upfield burst, hand usage, and pass rush plan will all need improvement if he wants to be a more dynamic presence. At Alabama, his get-off was really inconsistent largely due to the fact he was coached to key the offensive lineman across from him and execute gap control. In situations where he keyed the ball or was otherwise given more freedom – as a stand-up end against Clemson and Vanderbilt, for example – he displayed much more juice. The bottom line is that he has the lower body explosiveness to get upfield quickly, but it needs to be seen more often.
Another physical trait of his that goes underutilized is his length. Although he flashed a rip move and the ability to wedge himself into gaps, he was not nearly violent enough with his hands. His punches consistently landed, but there wasn’t as much thump behind them as you’d like from a guy who benched 225 lbs. 28 times at the combine. Too often was he guilty of velcroing to blocks that he could have beaten, so he’ll need to become more active in order for him to become more than just a glass eater.
Lastly, the Lions should not bank on any pass rushing help from Hand in his first year. He did his best work as a 3-technique, but has a severely underdeveloped pass rush arsenal. For example, Isaiah Wynn – New England’s first round pick and the presumptive successor to Nate Solder – absolutely erased him on the edge in the national title game. I think his athletic profile, length, and motor give him upside as an interior rusher, but he first needs to develop a winning move and a few counters, and that will take time. Meanwhile, he can be an effective run defender right away.
Year 1 projection: Strong, smart, and versatile role player who will contribute primarily on run downs from a variety of alignments and fronts. May need to be subbed out on rush downs as a rookie.
Year 3 projection: Full-time 3-technique who can moonlight as a base end in odd fronts. Starter you can win with who will serve as a disruptive interior presence in the run game while offering solid pass rush ability.
Games watched (2017): at Auburn (all-22), at Mississippi State (all-22), vs. Georgia, vs. Florida State, at Vanderbilt, vs. Clemson