With the Detroit Lions expected to add a defensive-minded head coach soon, will the Motor City draft for that side of the ball in the first round?
The simple fact is the Detroit Lions defense wasn’t the same after it lost veteran defensive tackle Haloti Ngata to a bicep injury in Week Five of last season. The Motor City ended up allowing 112.5 rushing yards per game in 2017, 18th most in the NFL.
At age 34, Ngata is currently a free agent who says he wants to keep playing despite considering retirement last offseason. At this point, it’s unclear if Detroit will even be interested in re-signing the veteran defender. And that’s mainly due to the Lions’ pending head coach.
The worst kept secret in the NFL, the Motor City is expected to announce current New England Patriots’ defensive coordinator Matt Patricia as the Lions’ new head coach after the conclusion of the Super Bowl. And it’s already been reported that Patricia has notified some members of Detroit’s coaching staff that they will not be returning in 2018.
It’s probably a good bet Patricia feels the same way about some of the Lions’ players as well, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
But with Detroit’s weakest positional group likely their running backs, many believe that need will be addressed very early, and maybe more than once, in the upcoming NFL Draft. Possibly even with their first round selection, which is 20th overall.
Yet, one football analytic site sees the Lions addressing a defensive need with their top pick instead. It would be someone who could replace Ngata along the interior of the defensive line. And that prospect is Washington defensive tackle Vita Vea.
"“While the Lions will give edge defenders a long look, adding the massive Vea to the middle of the defense may be too good to pass up,” wrote Steve Palazzolo for Pro Football Focus in a recent mock draft. “More than just a 340-pound run stuffer, Vea had the nation’s No. 4 pass-rush grade (88.0) to go with his No. 3 mark in the run game (91.6). He can blow up blocking schemes and push the pocket, adding a necessary disruptor to the Detroit defensive line.”"
If Matt Patricia intends on rebuilding this defense, shoring up the trenches is always the best place to start. A player like Vita Vea would not only plug interior running lanes, but he’d take pressure off of Detroit’s pass rushers and open things up for their linebacker corps. And his skills as a pass rusher would help out the Lions’ secondary as well. If a transcendent running back isn’t available at #20, a player like Vea would be a terrific consolation prize.