Grading the Detroit Lions: Defensive Line


This post is part of a series of posts in which I review the Lions position groups based on their play in the 2010 season. I assign a letter grade and give you a chance to have your say with a poll at the end.

Every rebuilding plan has to start somewhere and when it came to the defensive side of the ball the Lions chose the defensive line as their starting point.

Kyle Vanden Bosch was priority number one when the clock struck midnight to begin the free agency period prior to the 2010 season. Jim Schwartz traveled to Tennessee to pay his former player a visit and talk to him about joining forces in Detroit. KVB was receptive to the idea and didn’t take long to accept the offer and immediately brought a quality veteran presence to the defense. His season was cut short by neck season but he was able to eclipse his total season statistics from 2009 in just eleven games to show that he has plenty left in the tank. Vanden Bosch’s importance transcends his production on the field as he leads by example on the practice field, film room and weight room.
Grade: B

Corey Williams wasn’t a fit for the 3-4 defense in Cleveland so he became available for a relatively low price. Williams was a highly productive player with the Packers in a 4-3 alignment and returned to form upon his arrival in Detroit. Williams wasn’t the beneficiary of his work in terms of accumulating stats but the disruption he caused allowed his teammates to shine. His aggressive nature got the best of him as he was repeatedly flagged for offsides penalties while trying to jump the snap count. Still, the positives outweight the negatives.
Grade: B-

A lot was expected from Ndamukong Suh after he was selected number two overall in the 2010 NFL draft. Fans salivated over the way he dominated the Big XII Championship game and almost led his Nebraska Cornhuskers to an upset victory over the BCS Championship Game bound Texas Longhorns. Early enthusiasm was tempered by the reality that most defensive tackles need some time to develop at the NFL level, even those drafted near the top. Ndamukong Suh proved he is certainly not like most defensive tackles. Suh became just the second defensive tackle to hit the ten sack mark as a rookie. Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata is currently in his fifth year and is regarded as one of the best in the game but he couldn’t match what Suh did this past season. All this from a rookie on a team that still has to build a back seven in their defense? Scary.
Grade: A

The player that may have learned the most from Kyle Vanden Bosch’s example is Cliff Avril. Avril entered the season as the biggest question mark of the four starters but responded by taking a step forward. He saw his sack total rise to 8.5 from 5.5 in 2009 while showing some improvement in run support. The play of the rest of the line has taken some pressure off of Avril’s development but certainly hasn’t stunted it. Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham thinks big things are on the horizon for Cliff Avril and there is no reason to doubt him.
Grade: B

The Lions got good play out of Lawrence Jackson, Turk McBride and Sammie Hill as rotational players. They combined to add 13.5 sacks to the Lions defense that had the sixth most in the league and nine more than the league average. The increased depth shows in the way that McBride and Hill were used. Hill was thrust into starting duty, ready or not, as a rookie but did not make a start in 2010; a much better plan for a former fourth round draft pick that was selected as a developmental player. Lawrence Jackson only played in eleven games but was able to produce when called upon.
Grade: B+

The Detroit Lions defensive line is greater than the sum of its parts. A lot of players had nice season but the way they all got after the quarterback meant that if the first man through didn’t bring the quarterback down then there would be someone right behind him to finish the job. All members of the D-line play are high motor guys and have no problem running a play down from behind. The Lions defense was below average in terms of run defense but poor linebacker play contributed that as well. The defensive line play helped make the secondary look better than it really is.
Overall defensive line grade: A-

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