The Detroit Lions and GM Brad Holmes attacked the free agent market. After posting a top-five offense in 2022, Detroit reloaded its weaponry for the upcoming season. The Lions upgraded at running back after signing David Montgomery to a three-year deal. The team found a stop-gap option at right guard by bringing back Graham Glasgow for a second stint in the Motor City. Some names like Jamaal Williams and D.J. Chark were lost, but they should be easily replaceable, in Williams’ case he already has been.
While the team made minor upgrades on offense, the big splashes in free agency came in overhauling the Lions’ defense. Detroit ranked 28th in the NFL in points allowed per game. The team ranked dead last in yardage allowed per game as well. Changes needed to be made, and Holmes delivered.
The Lions’ first outside signing this offseason was cornerback Cam Sutton, one of the league’s most versatile corners. Holmes found Sutton a partner in Emmanuel Moseley. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson agreed to a one-year deal, giving the Lions a solid safety trio with Tracy Walker and Kerby Joseph already on the roster. Bringing back Alex Anzalone may not be a long-term answer for linebacker opposite Malcolm Rodriguez, but it will work for the next season or two.
Entering the 2023 season, the Lions should boast a significantly improved defense than what it put on the field in 2022. However, one area of need Holmes and Detroit’s front office are yet to significantly address is the interior defensive line. With the premiere free agents at that position already signed with other teams, it is likely the Detroit Lions will pursue an interior defensive lineman early in the upcoming draft.
The Detroit Lions have depth pieces at interior defensive line, not starters
Alim McNeill is a solid young starter on the interior of the Lions’ defensive line. Behind him, the team does not have starting-caliber players. Isaiah Buggs and Benito Jones performed well last season, but neither is cut out as a long-term full-time starter. Both were brought back on cheap contracts to serve as rotational guys.
Levi Onwuzurike has yet to live up to his second-round billing. The Washington product simply has not looked like a rotational player, let alone a starter. Maybe Onwuzurike can turn a corner in 2023. He is coming off an injury that sidelined him for the entire 2022 season. However, the Lions cannot afford to hope Onwuzurike can make a significant jump in performance. The team has playoff aspirations, and in order to meet them, it needs reliable play along the defensive interior.
It is unlikely the Lions select an interior defensive lineman with the sixth overall pick in the upcoming draft. There is a chance that Jalen Carter is available to the team at six, but with his legal battles up in the air, there is reason to pass on him. Frankly, if Carter’s legal issues are settled early enough, there is a good chance he does not even fall to six at all.
The Lions have three other picks in the top 55 of the draft. The team owns the 18th, 48th and 55th picks. It is with one of those three selections that the team will likely select an interior defensive lineman.
The Detroit Lions could target Calijah Kancey, Bryan Bresee or Mazi Smith in the first or second rounds
Calijah Kancey is a hot name right now. The Pittsburgh product shined at the scouting combine. Kancey is a bit undersized for the position, but his elite athletic traits and natural pass-rushing ability have drawn him comparisons to Aaron Donald. He has a ways to go as a run defender. At his size, it is likely he is a liability in run defense early in his career, but if he can put the pieces together he should become more reliable with experience.
Bryan Bresee has some injury concerns. The Clemson defensive lineman had both ACL and shoulder surgery in 2021 and early 2022. He possesses good athleticism for a 6-5 lineman. Bresee plays with explosiveness and is able to push offensive linemen back and collapse the pocket. He needs more experience as a pass rusher. Bresee does not yet utilize expansive pass-rush moves to get by blockers. With time he can become a very dangerous inside threat. While he develops as a pass rusher, Bresee will provide stout run defense early on in his career.
Mazi Smith is not an elite pass rusher. He has some ability to push a pocket and apply pressure, but he is not likely to ever be a guy to post high sack numbers. One thing Smith can do exceptionally well is defending the run. He has tremendous play strength and can clog up holes with ease. If Holmes does not like the value of Kancey or Bresee with the 18th pick, he could easily look for Smith in the second round.
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