The Lions Need to Bolster the Pass Rush This Offseason

Let’s look at the facts. In 2015, the pass rush of the Detroit Lions was among the best in the league. Detroit registered 43 sacks that season, which ranked seventh in the NFL. In 2016, the Lions recorded an abysmal 26 sacks. Only the Oakland Raiders had less.

Detroit also ranked 31st in the league in quarterback hurries, with just 71. The Lions recorded 90 hurries in 2015. So what went so wrong this year and how can the team fix this heading into the 2017 season?

Some of it likely had to do with health along the defensive line and linebacking corps. Most notably, Ezekiel Ansah, who had a disappointing season overall. He missed three games, but only had two sacks in the 13 games he did play in. For reference, he had 14.5 in 2015, which ranked third in the NFL.

Another big blow for Detroit’s defense was DeAndre Levy only playing in five games due to quad and knee injuries. While Levy himself is not known for sacking QBs, the defensive unit as a whole plays much better when he is 100 percent healthy. Excluding the 2015 season where Levy only appeared in one game, the 2014 Second Team All-Pro selection had a career low 16 tackles this season.

Gritty veteran Haloti Ngata also missed three games this season in the trenches.

The Lions did have one bright spot on the defensive line, though. The emergence of Kerry Hyder, who was pretty much unknown beforehand, got to opposing quarterbacks eight times this season, which lead the team. Devin Taylor ranked second, with just 4.5 sacks (he will be a free agent this offseason).

The Lions must bolster the pass rush this offseason. Whether it’s through free agency, the draft, trades or a combination of all three, something needs to be done.

There are a few potential free agents the Lions could target. Pro Football Focus ranks Calais Campbell as its No. 1 ranked defensive linemen on the market, and the fourth-ranked free agent overall. The 6-foot-8-inch, 282-pound Campbell is a physical specimen. He had eight sacks and six passes deflected in 2016.

However, Campbell has played in a 3-4 scheme with the Arizona Cardinals, while the Lions run a 4-3 defense. He also turns 31 right before the 2017 season kicks off. He is likely not a match, but certainly has the talent to play anywhere.

Chandler Jones, who also most recently played in a 3-4 scheme in Arizona, is the No. 1 edge rusher according to NFL.com writer Gregg Rosenthal. Jones will be just 27-years-old next season, and recorded 11 sacks and 49 total tackles this past season. Jones has had experience in the 4-3 system, however, during his time with the New England Patriots. Arizona is not likely to let him go, though.

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Buffalo Bills

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Jason Pierre-Paul, who is coming from a 4-3 scheme with the New York Giants, could be another potential target. He took opposing QBs down seven times, adding an impressive 53 tackles and eight passes deflected. Pierre-Paul does have other concerns, though. As most of us know by now, he seriously injured his hand and had his index finger amputated after a serious fireworks accident

Other notable free agents that would likely help the defense include linebacker Jamie Collins, defensive tackle Kawann Short and outside linebacker/edge rusher Melvin Ingram.

Looking toward April, the Lions have the 21st pick in the NFL Draft. The Lions have a few needs, including in the secondary, but I would like to see them target a pass rusher in the first round.

Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett is regarded by many as not only the No. 1 pass rusher in the draft, but also the best overall player. He is likely to go with the first pick.

Depending on which set of rankings you are looking at, behind Garrett is Alabama’s Jonathan Allen, Tennessee’s Derrick Barnett, Missouri’s Charles Harris and Stanford’s Soloman Thomas.

This seems to be a deep draft for edge rushers, with as many as seven projected to go in the first round, according to cbssports.com.

Perhaps Thomas, Harris or Michigan’s Taco Charleton will fall into Detroit’s lap at No. 21. On the interior, Michigan State’s Malik McDowell (who can also play end), Florida’s Caleb Brantley and Michigan’s Chris Wormley have great potential.

Personally, I would love to see Missouri’s Harris go to Detroit. He has the ability to play defensive end in the 4-3 scheme, or could also play outside linebacker. He recorded 61 tackles, with 12 tackles for loss, nine sacks and two forced fumbles in 2016.

Let me know what you want the Lions to address this offseason in the comments.

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