Jan 4, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; Detroit Lions defensive end Ezekiel Ansah (94) and C.J. Mosley (99) celebrate a sack on Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) during the third quarter in the NFC Wild Card Playoff Game at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Ndamukong Suh: A. Not much more can be said about Suh, other than his presence alone can alter game plans, shut down running games and strike fear into the hearts of opposing quarterbacks all at the same time. Against Dallas, Suh showed his total value, playing his best game of the season. For the most part, he stayed out of trouble until late in the season, which was a positive sight to see. Simply, he’s the engine that drives the defense, and Detroit might have to step up and pay him as such, if they’re not tired of the on-field drama that sometimes seems to follow him around. 8.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss can make up for that, though.
Ezekiel Ansah: A. Some young players have sophomore slumps, others don’t. Go ahead and put Ansah in the second category after his stellar 2014 season backed up his splash on the scene rookie year. Ansah collected 7.5 sacks, forced three fumbles and improved upon his number of tackles made in 2014. In this game, it’s not often a rookie player is able to do just as well in his second year, considering scheme sometimes catches up.
George Johnson: A-. Was there a better defensive free agent signing in football that came with less fanfare than Johnson? When the Lions plucked the former defensive tackle from obscurity, nobody knew he would turn into a player that could produce consistent sacks and pressure the quarterback in a situational role off the edge. Six sacks an 29 tackles were surprising and wonderful production, and Johnson was an unexpected terror for the Lions.
Jason Jones: A-. Another solid season for Jones, who came back healthy after missing most of the 2013 season with a shredded knee. At times, he looked like the missing link for the Lions’ pass rush, especially when he contributed five sacks, two forced fumbles and three passes defended. The hometown product gets to the quarterback and is versatile.
C.J. Mosley: B+. Quietly, Mosely had probably the most important job on the defense in 2014. With Nick Fairley sidelined, he had to be the one to plug the middle of the field along with Suh. Mosely did this without incident, and was a quietly solid run stopper in the middle of the field.
Darryl Tapp: B. Like Johnson, Tapp was an under-the-radar signing that went well for Detroit. He didn’t produce statistically like he probably should have, but in Detroit, Tapp was only playing a situational role, which probably helped diminish his overall impact on the field. When he was in, he did jump off the screen while rushing the passer, doing the little things the Lions needed.
Andre Fluellen: B-. Who would have expected Fluellen to come in and see any time, let alone collect two sacks? Without Fairley, the team needed everyone to pitch in at defensive tackle, and Fluellen did so for Detroit in solid fashion. In training camp, I joked I remembered seeing him in camp as a rookie, to which Fluellen said “Then I’m getting old.” Very impressive he was able to come back and fill a void solidly for the Lions in 2014.
Devin Taylor: C+. Taylor took a step back from the explosiveness he showed in his rookie year, but was surpassed because of the contributions of players like Johnson. Next year will be critical for Taylor to take the next step and begin to develop further off the edge.
Caraun Reid: Incomplete. The rookie came in abruptly when Fairley went down in London and played well, but didn’t get on the field nearly enough to warrant complete grading. Obviously, there’s plenty to like.