Saturday, May 5, 2012

Could the Detroit Lions' defensive line have a new look in 2012?

After a 10-6 season and a  "controversial" draft this could be Mayhew and Scwartz's defining season. Have they turned this team into a perennial contender or do they regress following their first playoff appearance in 12 years?

The answer likely lies in their defense which was ranked 23rd in the regular season.  The Lions defense is predicated on their defensive line as displayed by the investment two consecutive first round draft picks (Suh, Fairley), big signing (VandenBosch), trades (Jackson, Williams) and use of the franchise tag (Avril). Seniority and finances would dictate that Detroit's defensive line would look similar to how it did last season, but on field production would indicate a changes could be coming.

Let's take a look how the players on the Lions' defensive line fared in 2011:

(Player Name: ProFootballFocus.com's overall grade)

Defensive End:

Lawrence Jackson: +12.6

Jackson was a beast for most of the season until he got hurt and missed four games. He wasn't quite the same when he returned. He was going 50-50 on snaps with VandenBosch up until the injury. If he can stay on the field the Lions have their future starting RDE in Jackson. In fact, the Lions should be starting him over VandenBosch now. The only problem is this is a contract year for Jackson where he'll be making less than $1 and KVB will be making $5 mil.  

Willie Young: +11.7

Young's grades are somewhat inflated due to being on the field in ideal conditions. He was primarily used on passing downs making things a little easier on him. That's not to take away from Young's production, who did a lot with the 274 snaps he was on the field for. Young is an ideal player to have rotating with Avril and will continue to give the Lions a strong pass rush in 2012. 

Cliff Avril: +6.7

Avril was on the field more than any other defensive end putting in 889 snaps. It's no surprise to me that he and the Lions can't come to an agreement on contract terms as he is likely overvaluing himself. Avril is a stud left end, but was hot and cold all season. He put up some great highlights, but he struggled just as much as he succeeded. He'll no doubt continue to improve, and don't get me wrong I'd love to see him in Honolulu Blue for years to come, but he isn't worth breaking the bank over at this point. As much as the cost of the franchise tag might sting I think the Lions front office is wise to continue to evaluate his talent without overpaying him for years to come. 

Andre Fluellen: -2.4

Fluellen's versatility is the only asset to this team as he plays end and tackle, but he'll have a hard time making the roster this year. His age and the Lions' draft picks this year are now working against him. 

Kyle VandenBosch: -11.3

This is where things will get interesting. KVB had 8 sacks on the year but struggled in make an impact consistently. Will the Lions start him over Jackson based on seniority and pay grade? VandenBosch's leadership and work ethic may just keep him in the starting spot, but Jackson will once again eat heavily into his snaps. The Lions are going to have to decide if they want to pay a rotational player who struggled in all aspects of the game $5 million dollars annually. 

Everette Brown: .4 (on 21 snaps)

Brown played right end primarily, so if the Lions did release VandenBosch they would still have depth behind Jackson, not that I think that will happen. He'll have a hard time making the 53 man roster with the addition of Ronnell Lewis.

Ronnell Lewis: Rookie

Goodbye Andre Fluellen. Lewis will likely be mainly a special teams guy in his rook season, but I'm sure he'll see at least a handful of snaps especially in pass rushing situations. 

Defensive Tackles:

Nick Fairley: 6.6

In his 236 snaps Fairley showed why Detroit made him their first round draft choice. If Fairley can stay healthy and out of trouble he'll have a big year. The Lions tried him out at DRT some but I imagine he'll continue to play primarily at DLT. 

Ndamukong Suh: 3.3

Suh experienced the gameplan effect and was consistently taken out of plays. That might sound like a bad thing, but when you are drawing double teams it allows someone else to make a play. Statistically Suh had a hot and cold season, but he was still a contributor and a workhorse putting in 839 snaps. A full offseason should do him some good. If he can step up his game even a little it will pay big dividends on the field. 

Sammie Lee Hill: 2.5

It will be interesting to see whether or not SLH gets the starting nod over Corey Wiliams. Hill isn't as explosive as Williams, but he is more consistent. This is a contract year for Hill. 

Andre Fluellen: -3.8

Once again Fluellen failed to make an impact on a consistent basis. 

Corey Williams: -4.4

Williams will be 32 in August. He's still a quality player, but the Lions have $5 million tied up in him. The biggest concern is after the Lions bye-week in 2011 his play really dropped off. Hill is younger and ready to step into the starting line up. Once again, are the Lions willing to pay $5 million to a rotational player?


Fortunately for the Lions this is a good problem. Competition in camp should be intense and regardless of how the depth chart looks the Lions will once again field a dominant defensive line.

What do you think the Lions' defensive line will look like in 2012?


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