The top priority for the Detroit Lions this offseason is upgrading the team’s ailing defense. In 2022, the Lions boasted one of the best offenses in the NFL, but their defense ranked 28th in points allowed and last in yardage allowed.
Cornerback is one of the biggest positions of need on Detroit’s defense. The Lions ranked 30th in passing yards allowed this past season. However, adding talent at cornerback is only half the solution to improving the team’s pass defense.
The other half is adding pass rushers. The Lions have a solid young group of pass rushers already. Aiden Hutchinson and James Houston both enjoyed great rookie seasons. However, the team’s interior pass rush could use additional talent, and there is always a use for rotational edge rusher depth.
Veteran rushers Michael Brockers and Romeo Okwara are potential cap casualties this offseason. Cutting Brockers would save the team roughly $10 million, and cutting Okwara relieves roughly $7.5 million in cap space. If the Lions cut one or both of these players, the Lions are sure to target more cost-effective options in the draft and free agency.
With two first-round picks and two second-round picks, the Lions are in a great position to add high-end pass-rushing talent in this year’s draft.
Interior pass rush is a priority for the Detroit Lions
With Brockers a likely cap casualty, the Lions are in serious need of additional interior defensive linemen. Alim Mcneill has shown promise, and Levi Owunzurike has is yet to live up to the billing of a second-round pick. Both players need more time to develop.
Great interior defensive linemen are hard to come by in recent drafts. Taking one of the top defensive linemen in this year’s draft would not be surprising if the Lions are in a position to take one.
The likelihood of Jalen Carter being available to the Lions with the sixth overall pick is almost zero. The Georgia defensive lineman is regarded as the top non-quarterback available in the draft. If the Lions fall in love with Carter, there is good reason to trade up to get him.
Carter is an explosive pass rusher who dominates the line of scrimmage. He finished 2022 with three sacks, five hits, 24 hurries and three batted balls.
The Chicago Bears are expected to take Carter with the first overall pick in this year’s draft. However, the Bears are also a prime candidate to trade down with a quarterback-needy team. If the Bears trade down and the Lions have a chance to jump ahead of them to take Carter, they could wind up with potentially the best player in the class. It is a longshot, but adding Carter to Detroit’s roster would immediately take the team’s defense to another level.
If the Lions look to target defensive linemen with the 18th pick of the draft, Pittsburgh product Calijah Kancey will likely be the best available.
Kancey was productive in 2022 for Pittsburgh. He finished with eight sacks, nine hits and 30 hurries. He is somewhat undersized at 6-0. However, he has quick hands and feet that help him overcome his shortcomings in size. There are questions to how effective Kancey will be as a run defender, but his pass rush skillset is one of the best in the draft. The Lions could use Kancey as a rotational defensive lineman. The team can bring him in on passing downs.
The Lions could use added edge rush depth
Hutchinson has shown he can be the top-end edge rusher on a competitive team. Houston has shown potential as a number two edge rusher, but may also be best utilized in a rotational role. Whether the Detroit Lions are looking for a new starter to pair with Hutchinson on the edge or looking for a depth player, this year’s draft has plenty of talent in the early rounds.
Will Anderson Jr.
If Carter is the top non-quarterback in this year’s draft, Will Anderson Jr. is a close second. The Alabama product dominated this season with 14 tackles, nine hits and 42 hurries. He has a great combination of bend and burst off the edge. If he is paired with Hutchinson, the Lions would immediately have one of the league’s best edge-rushing duos.
Anderson is likely off the board before the Lions draft at sixth overall. It is more than worth the price to trade up and select Anderson.
Texas Tech’s Tyree Wilson is likely the best edge rusher available to the Lions at sixth overall. He possesses a great combination of size and length that makes it difficult for offensive linemen to lock onto him.
Wilson still has some refinement to do in his pass-rushing technique. However, he has the skillset and build to be a reliable edge rusher in this league. He finished 2022 with eight sacks, 10 hits and 32 hurries.
In Detroit, Wilson likely rotates with Houston opposite Hutchinson. It may not be a dominant edge rushing duo like with Anderson, but Adding Wilson to the mix certainly makes Detroit’s pass rush more potent.
Clemson’s Myles Murphy is the best likely edge available to the Detroit Lions with the 18th overall pick. He has all the traits of an elite edge rusher. He has the size at 6-5, 275 pounds. He has the speed and bend to dominate offensive linemen as well.
However, Murphy has a ways to go technically. He has moments where he makes it easy for opposing tackles to get leverage on him. He could struggle early on in his career as he develops his technical skillset.
Murphy is a great candidate to be a rotational piece behind Hutchinson and Houston. He will have moments of brilliance when his physical tools are on full display. It could take time, but Murphy could be an elite edge rusher once he develops.
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