Detroit Lions Review and Offseason Plan: Defensive Tackles


Photo Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Today we take a look at how the Detroit Lions defensive tackles performed during the 2012 season with a little help from the fine folks at Pro Football Focus.

The radar chart below shows the Pro Football Focus grades for each Lions defensive tackle and compares them to the best, worst and league average ratings. PFF grades each player on each play to produce a massively useful tool for evaluating the totality of a player’s season compared to others at his position.

2012 Season Review
Take a look at the radar chart above and you might think that the Detroit Lions’ defensive ends didn’t fare too well in 2012. While the performance of Geno Atkins certainly dwarfs the competition, that speaks to the ridiculous season he had rather than point to a flaw with the Lions’ defensive tackles. Atkins’ +80.0 overall grade from Pro Football Focus is head, shoulders, waist and knees above the rest of the field. To put that in perspective, Gerald McCoy‘s season ranked as the second best among all defensive tackles and nose tackles that played at least 25% of his team’s snaps with a +31.2.

That brings us to Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, both of whom had fine seasons that placed them a top five overall PFF rating league-wide. Suh’s +29.6 pass rush rating was second only to Atkins and while his rating against the runs was a -6.0, the strength of his pass rush landed him among the league’s best overall.

Fairley is a bit of a different case. He combined the fifth best pass rushing rating (+17.3) and the seventh best rating against the run (+9.4). Where Fairley takes a hit is in the penalty category where he received a -9.0, the worst among all 85 tackles that played 25% of his team’s total defensive snaps. I commented several times to various people during the season that I believe Nick Fairley will ultimately be a superior player to Suh. PFF’s 2012 ratings show that distinction could come sooner than later if Fairley can cut down the penalties.

Not to be forgotten, Sammie Hill posted a respectable +5.6 overall rating, good enough for 24th best. Like Suh, he performed much better rushing the quarterback than playing the run but he posted a solidly positive overall rating by consistently posting positive grades throughout the season.

Corey Williams didn’t play enough stats to land in the overall league-wide rankings but he solidly rated as a positive run defender when he was able to play, however a negative penalty rating knocked him down to a 0.0 overall.

Offseason Plan
It is clear that the Lions are set with Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley as their starting defensive tackles. From there, it is all about depth, something they have enjoyed with Sammie Hill and Corey Williams also on the roster. However, both Hill and Williams are set to become unrestricted free agents. Knowing a starting job is not available in Detroit, Hill will likely want to see if he can find one elsewhere. Not has Hill shown an ability to play a bigger role, he is likely in for a bigger payday than the Lions can provide. Still, the Lions should make an attempt to retain him.

Should Hill choose to move on, the Lions should immediately turn their attention to Corey Williams who has already indicated a willingness to stay in Detroit in a decreased role. Attrition totally eating away the team’s defensive tackle depth is not a recipe for success and Williams’ return gives the team three defensive tackles the Lions have a lot of confidence in and allows them to take on a developmental player much like they did with Sammie Hill four years ago. The Lions developed a recipe that has worked with their defensive tackles, so they might as well follow it.

Previously: Wide Receivers, Offensive Tackles, Guards, Center, Tight Ends, Quarterback, Running Backs, Outside Linebackers, Inside Linebacker, Safeties, Cornerbacks, Defensive Ends

*Those that have been around the Detroit Lions blogosphere for a while may recognize the approach presented as similar to Ty Schalter’s ‘Old Mother Hubbard’ series on The Lions in Winter. Don’t worry, he’s cool with what I’m doing here and has assured me that he’ll be back with Old Mother Hubbard later in the offseason.