Detroit Lions 2013 Review and Offseason Plan: Defensive End


Nov 28, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Matt Flynn (10) is tackled by Detroit Lions defensive end Willie Young (79) during the second quarter of a NFL football game on Thanksgiving at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Today we take a look at how the Detroit Lions defensive ends performed during the 2013 season with a little help from the fine folks at Pro Football Focus.

The radar chart below shows the Pro Football Focus grades for the Lions defensive ends who played at least 25% of the team’s snaps and compares them to the best, worst and league average ratings of other 4-3 defensive ends. 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.

2013 Season Review
First, a note on the radar chart. Robert Quinn looks crazy because he had a crazy season. There are 52 players on PFF’s 4-3 DE leaders for having played at least 25% of team snaps and the ratings spread from Quinn to number two (Cameron Wake) is slightly bigger than the spread from Wake to the 49th ranked player (Jason Hunter). Just bananas.

With Quinn dominating the chart by setting such a steep curve, Willie Young comes off looking worse than he really was. He graded out solidly positive against the run and pass in about equal measure and finished ranked 16th overall. Had took a hit in the penalty category and could have been a contender for the top ten with the same play but with more discipline.

The best news is that Young, Ziggy Ansah and Devin Taylor all finished with solidly positive ratings for their play against the run. That’s a promising result considering Ansah was considered a raw, high-upside draft pick and Taylor was a fourth-round pick. The next step for Ansah is to develop as a pass rusher. He was credited with 8 sacks but finished with a negative overall pass rush grade. We saw the potential in year one, now we need to see it more consistently if he is to realize the potential that made him a top-five pick. As for Taylor, he was able to out-perform Israel Idonije and showed enough promise to warrant more playing time in 2014.

Offseason Plan
The biggest question mark is Willie Young as he is set to become a free agent. Martin Mayhew has downplayed the need for a defensive end, perhaps expressing some level of confidence that Willie Young will be re-signed. If that does happen, he leads a four-man rotation with Ansah, Taylor and Jason Jones who will be healthy after missing much of the 2013 season. The Lions can mostly stand pat if they believe in the development of Ansah and Taylor. With limited money to spend and needs elsewhere, they may have to take that chance.

Adding a cheap veteran like they did with Idonije last year could be an option, but does that improve the unit? Unlikely considering Taylor outplayed Idonije last year. I say re-sign Young if the asking price is reasonable and let it ride. Evaluating what they have in Ansah and Taylor will easier after their second year and if Jason Jones prove incapable upon his return, the Lions can save $3 million in 2015 by releasing him after the season.

Previously: Quarterback, Running Back, Wide Receiver, Tight End, CenterOffensive Tackle, Guard