The Lions’ Options At Defensive End Post Kerry Hyder And Brandon Copeland

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Potential Targets To Replace Kerry Hyder And Brandon Copeland

While the Lions looked very good against the Indianapolis Colts in their first preseason game of 2017, they had some big losses in the match. Both Kerry Hyder and Brandon Copeland suffered season ending injuries in the game. Defensive end was already one of the weakest positions for the Lions going into 2017, but now they have lost Kerry Hyder, who led the team with eight sacks last season, and Brandon Copeland who was a solid rotational defensive end and special teamer.

Currently, Ziggy Ansah is the only established pass rushing threat on the entire team. After him, there is a plethora of cast offs from other teams or undrafted free agents. Here are some options at defensive end for the Lions going into the regular season.

Free Agents

Jared Odrick

Jared Odrick was drafted with the 28th overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft by the Miami Dolphins. After only playing in one game as a rookie, Odrick has gone on to have a successful NFL career. From 2011 through 2015, he averaged 4.5 sacks per season along with 25 tackles. He is a very versatile player as well – over that time period he has played defensive end, nose tackle, defensive tackle and linebacker.

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In 2015, Odrick signed with the Jaguars, where he started all 16 games. He made 23 tackles, 5.5 sacks, one forced fumble and had three passes defended. These are not all pro statistics by any any means, but they are very solid. During the 2016 season, Odrick had several nagging injuries that led to him being placed on injured reserve. He has been a free agent since.

Mario Williams

Since he was the number one overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft, Mario Williams has spent many seasons among the NFL’s best defensive ends. He has had five double digit sack seasons over the course of his career, and two other seasons with nine and 8.5 sacks.

So why is he a free agent? He is now 32 years old, and age seems to have caught up to him. Over the last two seasons, Williams has played for Buffalo and Miami, but only managed 6.5 sacks. Although Williams has had a fantastic career, and may still have some good play ahead of him, he has slowed down significantly.

Dwight Freeney

Dwight Freeney is one of the most accomplished pass rushers in recent memory. He has 122.5 sacks over the course of his 15 year career. He was most recently with the Atlanta Falcons, where he had three sacks as a rotational pass rusher in 2016. He also managed a sack during the Falcons defeat in the Super Bowl.

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Similarly to Mario Williams, Dwight Freeney remains a free agent due to age. Freeney has expressed desire to play football in 2017, and although he too might still have something left to give the NFL, his best playing days are behind him.

Trent Cole

Trent Cole is another veteran with a very accomplished career. Over his 12 NFL seasons, he has made 90.5 sacks. Cole has four double digit sack seasons in his career, along with an eight sack, nine sack and another eight sack season over the course of his time with the Eagles. He was mostly recently with the Colts for two years, where he made only five sacks in 21 games.

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The story is the same with Cole as it was with the previous two players on this list:  he had a great peak to his NFL career, but he is simply past it. Cole has also said that he wants to play in 2017, but it will likely not be as anything more than a rotational player.

Paul Kruger

Paul Kruger has two very good seasons on his resume, but not a lot of anything else. In 2012, he made nine sacks with the Baltimore Ravens and in 2014 he made 11 sacks with the Browns. He is best known for his postseason performance during the 2012 season with the Baltimore Ravens, when he made 4.5 sacks in four games including two in the Super Bowl.

Kruger is a younger option than Williams, Freeney or Cole, but he has been even less productive in recent years. Kruger has just four sacks in 31 games over the last two seasons.

Trade Candidates

Muhammad Wilkerson

There have been trade rumors regarding Muhammad Wilkerson for months. Wilkerson, who is a former first round pick for the New York Jets, has had a very good NFL career but is coming off of a down season. Wilkerson has a 10 sack and a 12 sack season in his six year career, but is coming off of his least productive season since his rookie year (he made just 4.5 sacks in 2016).

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Wilkerson is a very good player, but it would likely cost a lot for Detroit to get him. The Jets appear to currently be rebuilding, so it is likely that they would like draft picks for Wilkerson. It was speculated last offseason that the Bears might give up a first round pick for Wilkerson, but the Jets reportedly declined that offer.

Sheldon Richardson

Sheldon Richardson is also a former first round pick, defensive end for the Jets. There have also been trade rumors about Sheldon Richardson all offseason. Richardson had an eight sack season in 2014 and five sacks in 2015. He is coming off of the worst season of his entire career though, as he was asked to play linebacker for the Jets and recorded only 1.5 sacks in 15 games.

The asking price for Richardson would likely be less than for Wilkerson, but he could still be very pricey since he is a young, high potential player.

Tamba Hali

Tamba Hali seems to be unhappy with his situation on the Chiefs, and may like to be traded. Hali is a very accomplished pass rusher, he has 89.5 sacks over his 11 seasons in the NFL. He too is not coming off of a good season though. He was a rotational pass rusher last year, as he started only two games despite appearing in all 16. He ended 2016 with only 3.5 sacks.

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Although Hali is an older player and past his prime, it still might make sense for Detroit to trade for him. His asking price would be a lot less than for Richardson or Wilkerson, and he still has some gas left in the tank. He was somewhat productive in a rotational role last season.

Dante Fowler

Dante Fowler was the third overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars. He missed his entire rookie season due to tearing his ACL in the offseason. In his second NFL season, he appeared in all 16 games for the Jaguars, but started only one game. He made 32 tackles and four sacks in limited playing time.

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Although Fowler was a first round draft pick only two years ago, he seems to already have fallen out of favor in Jacksonville, as they purely used him as a rotational player last year and the Jaguars signed free agent defensive end Calais Campbell this offseason. Fowler definitely has talent, and although he has been a bust so far, maybe Bob Quinn is willing to give him a second chance like he did Greg Robinson.

Arik Armstead

Similarly to Dante Fowler, Armstead was also a first round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. Armstead has played in 24 games over his two NFL seasons, but started only four of them. He missed the second half of the 2016 season after a shoulder injury. Armstead has recorded just 4.5 sacks and 34 tackles over his entire career.

Armstead is another guy who is currently looked upon as a draft bust. He has been very disappointing for the 49ers, and a change of scenery could be good for him.

Could Be Cut At The End Of Preseason

Vinny Curry

Vinny Curry is currently the ninth highest paid defensive end in the NFL. This is despite managing just 3.5 sacks in 2015 and 2.5 sacks in 2016. The money he is being paid versus his production alone could merit him being cut.

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Besides this, the Eagles drafted defensive end Derek Barnett in the first round of the draft this year, making Curry even more expendable. Curry has high potential to be cut at the end of training camp, and could be an option for the Lions.

Jerry Hughes

Jerry Hughes is the tenth highest paid defensive end in the entire league, and he also hasn’t produced a lot lately. In 2015, he had five sacks, and in 2016 he had six. This is pretty good production, but not good enough to justify being a top 10 paid defensive end.

Hughes is a better player than Curry, but at the same time he is still overpaid and could be a candidate to be cut at the end of camp. If he does, expect the Lions to prioritize trying to sign him.

Clay Matthews

Clay Matthews could be the biggest surprise training camp cut of the year. He is the fourth highest paid outside linebacker in the entire NFL, despite having very average numbers over the last two seasons. In that time period, he has made just 90 tackles and 11.5 sacks.

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There was a time when Clay Matthew was a great player in the NFL, but he appears to be past his prime after the last two seasons. He is still a decent player though, and if he was to get cut he could make a great pass rushing specialist for the Lions.

Do Nothing

The only defensive end currently on the Lions that could be described as a star is Ziggy Ansah. After him, it is mostly guys who have yet to leave a mark on the NFL. This is not necessarily a bad thing though. Giving the young guys at the defensive end position a chance to prove themselves could work out really well.

Jeremiah Valoaga, Alex Barrett and Pat O’Connor all have a better shot at making the team now. Valoaga and Barrett are undrafted rookie free agent signings, while O’Connor was a seventh round pick in this years draft. Throughout training camp, there have been good reports of all of these guys, and in the first preseason game each one had a sack.

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It is extremely unlikely that any of these guys are going to step up and play at an all-pro level for the Lions, but it is certainly within the realm of possibility that they could form a solid defensive end rotation. These guys getting a shot to prove themselves is not the worst thing in the world, and at the end of the day, it is the most likely option of anything on this list.

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