When one thinks of the Lions’s draft needs for this year, one area where the team appears set is along the defensive line, by far the best position group for Detroit’s developing defense. Most mock drafts either have the Lions grabbing cornerback Prince Amukamara or selecting an offensive tackle with the 13th pick of the first round, and I’d be quite content if the team came away with Amukamara or USC tackle Tyron Smith.
Next year’s NFL season is very much in question, however, and if Amukamara and Smith are off the board when Detroit is on the clock, I’d like to see the team select the best player available — while the Lions are certainly on their way back, they’re still not at the point where they can afford a first-round bust. And if Detroit is looking for the best player available at No. 13, I’m guessing that player will be a defensive end, and the Lions shouldn’t hesitate to draft him.
My reasoning for this is two-fold. First, I don’t the the team’s depth at DE is all it’s cracked up to be. Cliff Avril has the potential to be a very good pass-rusher, but 19 sacks in three seasons doesn’t guarantee stardom and Avril has yet to stay healthy for all 16 games in his career. Kyle Vanden Bosch provides great veteran leadership, but he has missed 11 games himself in the last three years while compiling only 11.5 sacks over that span. Lawrence Jackson and Turk McBride are promising young players, but both have already been cast aside by teams that drafted them in the top two rounds. While the players currently on the team have the potential to form a great line, there’s room for another piece, preferably a player that can stop the run while being dangerous on the pass rush (yes, I realize I just described the ideal DE, but whatever).
The second reason I’d like to see the team draft a defensive end is the 2007 New York Giants. They weren’t the greatest of teams, going just 10-6 in the regular season, but they featured a trio of pass-rushing terrors in ends Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora, and Justin Tuck, who combined for 32 sacks that season. As you all know, that team ended up pulling off one of the greatest upsets in sporting history when they shocked the undefeated New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. In that game, New York sacked Tom Brady five times (for 37 yards lost) while holding the vaunted Patriot offense to just 14 points.
You can probably see where I’m going with this. Clemson’s Da’Quan Bowers is one of the most talented players in the draft, but a meniscus injury has hurt his draft stock to the point where he’s the draft’s biggest wild card — he’s the draft’s top overall pick or a player who could fall out of the first round, depending on whom you ask. At the 13th pick, a player recovering from a relatively minor injury who has top-pick potential is an absolute steal in my book. Throw out a defensive line rotation of Bowers, Avril, Vanden Bosch, Jackson, Ndamukong Suh, Corey Williams, and Sammie Lee Hill and you’ve got a young, super-talented group that can stop the run, scare the crap out of opposing quarterbacks, and be the centerpiece of a playoff defense.
If another team jumps at the chance to take Bowers before Detroit picks, and once again Amukamara and Smith are off the board, Purdue’s Ryan Kerrigan is another interesting possibility. As a Michigan fan, I got to see Kerrigan absolutely destroy the Wolverine offensive line last season in a fashion no other player could replicate, and his production in college (33.5 sacks and 57.0 tackles for loss in his career) was off the charts. While he doesn’t have the upside of Bowers, he may be the safer pick and is a player I expect will be a valuable starter in the NFL.
We’ll see what happens come draft day — I’m one of the legions hoping Amukamara somehow falls into Detroit’s lap — but it looks like the Lions will have plenty of options that can help right away and down the line.