In honor of the Lions’ most recent addition we turn our heads to the defensive line for this week’s position preview. Ex-Bear Israel Idonije inked a one-year deal over a week ago to join the team’s overhaul at the defensive end spots. The signing reiterates Detroit’s craving to reignite a line that left much to be desired in 2012.
With lofty expectations the Detroit Lions failed to get pressure on the quarterback with any consistency (t-20th in sacks) and were average against the run (16th in rushing yards allowed). Father-time did away with Kyle Vanden Bosch, 34, as his once everlasting motor finally ran out of gas. He finished the season with merely 3.5 sacks, and it was quite clear he had lost a step or two from seasons past.
Defensive tackle Corey Williams did not fare any better in an injury-plagued season that led to only seven games played from the 32-year-old vet. Both Williams and Vanden Bosch continue to be unsigned free agents, possibly headed for retirement.
In last year’s offseason, highly touted free agent Cliff Avril turned down a reported three-year, $30 million contract from Detroit and chose to be franchised at $10.6 million instead. After a 9.5 sack season Avril did not get the recognition he hoped for. With his return to free agency this year Avril signed a two-year deal worth $15 million for Seattle. Perhaps this is because teams saw that while Avril’s pass rushing skills are above par he benefits greatly from playing next to a couple of monster tackles in Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh. Though he has some playmaking abilities, Avril is not a top tier pass rusher and is less than formidable against the run with only a 260 pound frame. He certainly did not warrant the elite money he asked Detroit for.
I am not saying that these three players were the only reasons for Detroit’s lack of success on defense last season. As stated in last week’s Position Preview of the Week, the secondary was simply putrid allowing opposing quarterbacks to find their receivers consistently open within a few seconds of dropping back. In addition, it would have been nice to witness Suh dominate the interior more often and for Fairley to stay on the field.
However, I refuse to believe that the defensive line’s problems rooted with the recently drafted 1st round talents. Vanden Bosch was just washed up last season, and I think Avril will show to be supremely overrated. Williams, on the other hand, just couldn’t stay healthy. If this year’s crop of newly-acquired defensive ends produces at a high level, then my hypothesis will stand. But if they do not, we can begin to point the finger at Suh and Fairley.
Much like the Lions’ secondary, their new defensive line embodies youth with ability to boot:
Jason Jones (6-foot-5, 276 pounds) provides versatility along the line. He is an all-around hybrid that is big enough to stuff the edge and fast enough to blitz up the middle. The 26 year-old steadily improved around a great defense in Seattle. Through free agency the Lions picked up Jones at three years for $9.5 million, as the Seahawks picked up Avril at the two-year, $15 million contract listed earlier above. We will see who got the better deal as the season plays out, but I have big money on Jones.
LDE Grade: B
Ezekiel ‘Ziggy’ Ansah (6-foot-5, 271 pounds) is the ANSAH! I’ve had to ward off haters on the number five pick since draft day, but I never have more fun than when defending my boy Ziggy. Outraged fans tell me he has only played football for three years!? Bwaha, they can’t believe anyone with such little experience could be drafted that high! In response, bwa, I can’t help but display a cocky grin. This grin, bwahaha, withholds the power of knowing what another person is soon to find out. It’s an ‘I know something you don’t know moment’ that gives a feeling of empowerment and exhilaration, similar to the intolerable giddiness a child feels when being entrusted with a juicy secret. Oh, the power! Mark my words, Ezekiel Ansah will be the spark to light the explosion Lion fans have waited for. My maniacal laughter can no longer be contained: BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA ANSAHHH, BWA LIONS, BWAHAHA WOW!
But seriously, take a look at the New York Giants’ Jason Pierre-Paul who is arguably the best defensive end in the game. He only played one season of Division I football! Both players are 6-foot-5 at 270 plus pounds, but Ziggy actually runs a faster 40-time with a staggering 4.63 compared to Pierre-Paul’s 4.71. Anyone with that much innate talent can do damage in the NFL, but what sets Ansah apart is his journey to the league which shows his work ethic to be second to none. Next week, I will write about the trials this young man faced en route from his home country of Ghana to America.
RDE Grade: B (for now)
Ndamukong Suh (6-foot-4, 307 pounds) statistical success will fluctuate, but his in-game impact is always monumental. Suh had to deal with double teams often, and, with the exception of Fairley and Avril at times, the rest of the Lions’ defensive line failed to capitalize with their one-on-one matchups. After a heavily criticized 4.0 sack year in 2011, Suh raised his sack total to 8.0 in his third season. This offseason Suh has exemplified greater leadership skills and seriousness about his game after being called out by the media a few too many times. If the new defensive line plays better than last year’s group, Suh’s numbers should rise because offensive lines will have to spread further out. If Suh stays double teamed expect the similar numbers as last year, but know that he is making an impact simply because he draws so much attention.
DT Grade: A
Nick Fairley (6-foot-4, 298 pounds) fully healthy with Suh should make for best DT combo in the football. Fairley was once considered the top player in the 2011 NFL draft, but character and work ethic concerns let him drop to 13 for the Lions to pounce. Last year Corey Williams took away playing time, but this year Fairley will get all the minutes he can handle. If he can stay in great condition for an entire season, this interior D should reach unearthly levels.
DT Grade: A-
Israel Idonije (6-foot-6, 275 pounds) is the final piece to making this defensive line elite. His addition gives the Lions a fifth starting-caliber lineman to keep the four-man-front fresh at all times. Also, he, along with Jones and Suh, can play both defensive end and defensive tackle allowing the Lions to constantly change plans of attack. This is the type of depth that led the New York Giants to their two recent Super Bowl rings. Coming off a 7.5 sack season at 32 years of age, he has yet to show any signs of deterioration, and with him being signed for only one year there is little risk. If anything, his age will aid younger linemen who can learn under his tutelage, and with the loss of captain Kyle Vanden Bosch the Lions were in sore need of a new leader on defense. Idonije will be that guy.
Platoon Grade: A
Willie Young (6-foot-4, 254 pounds) failed when given his opportunities to impress last year. After playing well with a reserve role in 2011, Young was given a bit more playing time but gave less production and zero sacks in return. This year the former 7th round pick will likely be the 4th defensive end in the rotation, and unless he shows significant growth through the preseason look for the undersized Young to get petty playing time.
Devin Taylor (6-foot-7, 266 pounds) has raw athleticism and size. The mammoth boasts arms that are 36 inches in length. These babies should knock down a few passes in the future. The 4th round rookie brings considerable potential but with small initial impact for this season’s crew. If he shines early on he could jump Young in the rotation.
C.J. Mosley (6-foot-2, 310 pounds) injured our quarterback! In Matthew Stafford’s rookie season, Mosley, then of the Cleveland Browns, gave the new quarterback a welcome-to-the-NFL blow to the shoulder. The hit clearly bothered Stafford, but he showed grit and ended the game a throw later in what would be his first heroic comeback, 38-37, of his young career. A few years have passed, and Stafford has forgiven the apologetic DT. Mosley is a veteran with eight years of pro ball experience. He will try to take the place of big boy Sammie Lee Hill. While he doesn’t have Sammie Lee Hill’s explosive power (massive weight) to clog the middle, Mosley brings savvy and leadership at a much cheaper price.
Overall Defensive Line Grade: A-
Overall Summary: This bigger, faster and younger Detroit D-line only needs time to learn each other’s tendencies and grow as a unit. An improved secondary will force opposing quarterbacks to hold onto the ball longer enSUHing havoc. Bwa!
Great line + improved secondary= big play ability for this year’s Lions.