Behind the two established starters the Detroit Lions have a lot of role players who play a good number of snaps. The Lions love to rotate their defensive lineman to keep them fresh late in games, the 3rd and 4th Defensive Ends last year (George Johnson, Darryl Tapp) had 502 and 288 snaps. The battle for the 3rd and 4th defensive end spots should be highly contested in training camp. The Lions need a couple young players to step up this year and fill the roles they were drafted for. They have a lot of unproven talent at the position and the whole defense would benefit from one of the young guys stepping up and challenging Jason Jones. Devin Taylor and Larry Webster were both drafted because they’re athletic freaks. They were prospects for Jim Washburn and Kris Kocurek to mold into starters. The time has come for them to step up and contribute.
Dec 21, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Detroit Lions defensive end Devin Taylor (92) during the second half at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
No. 92 Devin Taylor
What has he done?
Devin Taylor was the Lions 4th round pick in 2013 and has played a minor role as a defensive end in his first two seasons. He needs to show he is an NFL caliber player and the third year is always huge for young players. He has all the physical tools you could ask for(mockdraftable spiderweb below). His combine was even more impressive than Ziggy Ansah’s and the two would form an incredibly athletic duo. His length, strength, and speed is very hard to match and if he can learn to harness it the sky is the limit. However, he has yet to consistently produce on the field. He only played 245 snaps last year and finished the season with 15 total tackles and 1 sack.
What to expect?
Devin Taylor is somewhat of a wildcard, if he shows some growth and starts to produce he can challenge Jason Jones for snaps. He is a solid run defender and but like Jones he struggles as a pass rusher. For him to become a real threat to Jason Jones he will need to become a consistent pass rushing threat. He has all the physical tools to do so and is a player to look out for next season. He projects as a closed end in the Lions scheme and his development will be crucial for the teams plans next offseason.
Aug 9, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions defensive end Larry Webster (79) during the first quarter against the Cleveland Browns at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
What has he done?
The simple answer to this question is not much. He didn’t dress in a single game last year and only played two seasons of football at Bloomsburg before the Lions selected him in the 4th round of the 2014 NFL Draft. He is a very unpolished project that the Lions knew would take time before he would be ready to play in the NFL. He is another incredibly special athlete that shocked the scouting community at the combine (mockdraftable below). He spent last year working on his game and his body. He recently told Kyle Meinke of MLive :
“I’ve gained some weight,” Webster said last week. “I’m trying to get bigger and stuff like that. And right now, I’m right where I should be.”
Webster said he’s up to about 270 pounds. He was listed at 262 pounds last year.
The added weight and strength will pay huge dividends next year if he is going to see any playing time. The Lions have made it a habit of drafting incredibly athletic players in the later rounds and trying to develop them. Larry Webster is their latest attempt at this strategy and could be a great find by the Lions front office.
What to expect?
It’s hard to expect much from Webster without seeing him on the field. Like Taylor he has all of the athletic ability you could ask for he just needs to learn how to translate it into on field success. He projects well to replace the speed element that George Johnson brought to the defense last year. Coach Jim Caldwell he has made comments about his great gains rushing the passer:
"“He has made leaps and bounds in terms of strides in his ability to rush the passer,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said late last season. “He’s tough. The (coaches) do some extra work with him after practice and they’ve been raving about what he’s been able to accomplish and just watching him kind of grow and develop. “So at some point in time, he’s going to play and play well for us.”"
When the Lions let George Johnson walk, Larry Webster was definitely in their minds. They think they have found a diamond in the rough. He is the first guy in line to take the pass rushing snaps at defensive line and could make a huge impact next season.
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