In what will be an ongoing series, I will be taking a look at each position on the Detroit Lions roster and examine where things stand, who has the best shot at making the final 53-man roster, and whether or not we improved in this area. Next up, defensive end.
It all started in August of last year with a 14 yard interception return off of Mark Sanchez. From that point on we all knew Ziggy Ansah was going to be a special player. He ended up leading all rookies with eight sacks last year and had two forced fumbles to go with it.
Ansah can get by on his athleticism alone, but he’ll need to continue to develop his pass rushing techniques if he wants to continue to get to the quarterback on Sundays. He had success sacking opposing quarterbacks, but didn’t get enough QB pressures as some would have liked.
Going into his sophomore year, you can expect to see some big improvements in Ziggy’s game. Pressure will be coming from all directions under newly hired defensive coordinator Teryl Austin’s defensive scheme.
Chances of making final roster: 100% (starting right defensive end)
The Lions had high expectations for Jason Jones after signing him to a three-year, $9.5 million deal. Those expectations were cut short just three games into the regular season after Jones ruptured his patellar tendon in their week 3 victory over the Redskins.
Assuming Jones is healthy, he’ll likely start opposite Ziggy Ansah at the left defensive end spot and also get some reps in as a defensive tackle.
Chances of making final roster: 90% (starting left defensive end/rotational defensive tackle)
As a rookie, Devin Taylor wasn’t really expected to do a whole lot for the Lions. He was a project coming out of South Carolina and was just getting used to his big frame. It was a surprise to see just how much of an impact he would have on just 308 snaps last year.
Taylor ended up with 15 QB hurries in 2013, which was only seven shy of Ansah, who had nearly double the amount of snaps as Taylor.
Taylor’s massive frame and long arms allow him to swat passes at the line of scrimmage and alter throws from opposing quarterbacks. He’s much more effective against the pass and will likely be used as a situational pass rusher this year.
Chances of making final roster: 85% (situational pass rusher)
Tapp has had a roller coaster of a career so far. He had a nice start with the Seahawks including a seven sack season in 2007 with an interception and eight pass deflections to go with it. Since then he’s totaled 15 sacks over six years.
Tapp be looking for a fresh start with the Lions in their hybrid 4-3 defensive scheme. Under Teryl Austin you’ll likely see him line up as both an outside edge-rushing linebacker from the two-point stance, as well as a traditional 4-3 DE in the three-point stance.
I expect Tapp to provide some solid depth to the Detroit Lions front-seven.
Chances of making final roster: 80% (rotational DE/OLB)
Larry Webster will be the next defensive end project for defensive line coach Kris Kocurek and assistant Jim Washburn.
Washburn is like a magician when it comes to developing DE prospects, and the sky is the limit for Larry Webster.
Webster was one of FootballOutsider’s favorite prospects this year in their SackSEER ratings, and gave Webster their highest explosion index rating (measuring 40-yard dash, verticle jump, and broad jump in pre-draft workouts) behind Khalil Mack and Jadeveon Clowney.
According to Mockdraftable, Webster’s measurements at the NFL Combine are most comparible to Jadeveon Clowney over the past 15 years of data acquired.
Webster likely won’t see much action as a rookie, but if he can work on his pass rushing techniques and pair it with his elite athleticism, he could very well turn into a special player down the road.
Chances of making final roster: 65% (developmental player for now, likely fill-in or practice squad)
Johnson came into the league as an undrafted free agent in 2010 and made his NFL debut as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer in 2011. Since then he’s accounted for 7 total tackles in the NFL. He will likely be nothing more than a camp body for the Lions.
Chances of making final roster: 0% (camp body)
Kashama is a home town favorite out of Eastern Michigan University, but he’ll need a whole lot more going for him than that if he wants to be in the mix to make the final 53-man roster.
Chances of making final roster: 0% (camp body)
Did They Improve?
In terms of talent, no. Will we see more production? Yes.
At this point last year the Lions had Ansah and Jones both healthy, and also Willie Young who went to have a solid 2013 season and was 2nd on the team in QB hurries with 48 behind Suh’s 54. It will be tough to match the energy that Young brought last year.
The Lions will be in much better shape at defensive end if Jones can stay healthy, but there are a lot of new faces at the position. Ansah will continue to develop and should be even better than last year while Taylor should receive a bigger role as a pass rusher.
I expect to see more pressure from this unit as a whole just because of the change of scheme that defensive coordinator Teryl Austin brings, and you’ll see plenty of blitz packages that you rarely saw under Gunther Cunninghim and Jim Schwartz.