2015 Detroit Lions Defensive Line: Asset or Liability

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This off-season the Detroit Lions lost defensive linemen who contributed 19 sacks or 45 percent of the defense’s 2014 sack total. It also lost the unit’s top two interior run defenders.

By now accolades for the 2014 Lions defense are widely publicized; which makes for a very tough act to follow in 2015.

While the front four never truly produced as a top unit until Teryl Austin installed his scheme, questions regarding whether there is enough talent upfront to regain that success persist. We’ll investigate whether the 2015 Detroit Lions Defensive Line is equipped to make another historic run.

2014 Caraun Reid vs Jermelle Cudjo/Gabe Wright

Sep 3, 2015; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions defensive tackle Jermelle Cudjo (63) sacks Buffalo Bills quarterback Matt Simms (8) during the second quarter of a preseason NFL football game at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

While superstars snag most headlines, astute fans realize a unit is only as good as its weakest link. In 2014, Caraun Reid was the weakest link along the interior of the Lions’ defensive front. Not only was he clearly overmatched early in the season, he never seemed to progress as the season wore on. In fact, when Nick Fairley went down due to injury Reid was not shown more action. On the contrary, he found himself inactive in favor of journeymen like Andre Fluellen.

Reid finished 2014 as the worst interior defensive linemen on the roster and was one of only two Lion defenders (Devin Taylor) who finished the season with negative marks with across the board.

The standard Reid set in 2014 was so low it wouldn’t take much to raise the bar.

Enter Gabe Wright and Jermelle Cudjo.

The Lions parted with a 2016 3rd round selection to trade into the 4th round to secure Wright’s services. Jermelle Cudjo came to the Lions without fanfare as low-priority free agency signing. While both players offer value, it would be Cudjo who ended camp as a fan favorite.

Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Wright is a talented player with some upside. His reaction to the snap is consistently quicker than other interior defensive linemen. This has helped Wright to the 7th best run stop percentage among all qualifiers during preseason. Despite this, Wright’s lack of functional is clear to see. He’s routinely blown 3-5 yards off the line of scrimmage and his overall marks for run defense are by far the worst of any player on the roster.

Cudjo is a blue collar player whose grit, determination and work ethic immediately made him a fan favorite. Early in camp he outworked teammates and opponents playing well beyond his station. When the preseason arrived, Cudjo continued making plays in an attempt at impacting the roster. By the end of the preseason he rated as the Lions 2nd best interior pass rusher.

On his own merits, Cudjo offers more to the Lions in 2015 than Reid offered a year prior. What makes this a substantial upgrade however is the unique skill set Cudjo and Wright bring to the Lions. Cudjo is a bit stouter at the point of attack than Wright; Wright is a bit more explosive than Cudjo. When the Lions rotate these players teams will need to constantly adjust how they block, otherwise this duo could create some breakdowns in protection.

Final Disposition: Upgrade

Next: CJ Mosley/ Andre Fluellen vs. 2015 Caraun Reid