This will be the Detroit Lions biggest need in 2019

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 30: Devon Kennard #42 of the Detroit Lions at AT&T Stadium on September 30, 2018 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 30: Devon Kennard #42 of the Detroit Lions at AT&T Stadium on September 30, 2018 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /

With only one edge defender under contract for the 2019 season, the Detroit Lions are in desperate need of depth at that position.

Lack of depth at the defensive end position has been a common narrative for the Detroit Lions for many seasons. Outside of oft-injured pass rusher Ezekiel Ansah, the team has not had a consistent starter at that role.

With a new defensive scheme thanks to first-year head coach Matt Patricia, the Lions utilize players in a new role, lining up both defensive ends and linebackers as edge defenders. This new position gives more opportunities for players to rush the passer, which has been quite successful this season, with edge defenders making a total of 21.5 sacks in 14 games.

The Lions currently have five edge rushers on the active roster: linebacker Devon Kennard, linebacker Eli Harold, defensive end Romeo Okwara, defensive end Kerry Hyder, and defensive end Eric Lee. They also have defensive end Jonathan Wynn on the practice squad, and Ansah is currently on injured reserve. Of these seven players, Kennard is the only one under contract going into next season, leaving a lot of spots for the team to fill in free agency and the draft.

Brought in at the start of free agency in the 2018 offseason, many thought that Kennard will fill the role that former Lions linebacker Tahir Whitehead had. Instead, Kennard proved to be much more valuable as a pass rusher than in coverage. The linebacker has recorded 43 tackles and 7.0 sacks so far on the season. Under contract until 2021, it is clear that he will be a key piece of the defense for a while.

While Kennard is currently the only player at the position entering the 2019  season, there are some players on this roster who have earned another contract with the Lions.

Harold and Okwara both found their way to Detroit just before the 2018 season began. Harold was acquired in a trade with the San Francisco 49ers and Okwara was claimed off waivers after being let go by the New York Giants.

While Harold has been used in a reserve role, serving mainly as Kennard’s backup, he has done well with limited opportunities. The linebacker has only been on the field for a little over 18 percent of the Lions’ defensive snaps season but has 4.0 sacks and 10 tackles in those 159 snaps.

Okwara moved up into a starting role quickly in his short time in Detroit. Playing in over 71 percent of defensive snaps this season, he has accumulated 6.5 sacks (second-highest on the team), 26 tackles, and a forced fumble. Now paired with two former teammates from the Giants, Kennard and nose tackle Damon Harrison, Okwara has been able to benefit from a good rapport with his fellow defensive lineman and become a key piece of the defense.

Both Harold and Okwara are young, only being 23- and 24-years old, respectively. With low-cost contracts expiring this season, the Detroit Lions have the opportunity to bring back two young defensive playmakers at a reasonable price.

Ansah has found his way onto injured reserve after suffering a shoulder injury after their Week 14 victory over the Arizona Cardinals. The 2013 first-round pick was franchise tagged by Detroit, signing him to a one-year, $17.1 million deal. Ansah only was able to appear in seven games this season due to injuries but managed to tally up 4.0 sacks and 11 tackles in just 146 snaps.

Ansah’s impressive career has been riddled with injuries, causing the former Pro Bowler to miss significant time throughout his years in Detroit. With some rising stars at the edge rusher position, the Lions may decide to move on from him going into the 2019 season.

The other edge defenders on the Lions’ roster have not made enough of an impact this season to justify them sticking around much longer, with Lee and Hyder combining for just eight tackles.

With Kennard, and the probable re-signings of Harold and Okwara, that leaves the Lions with just three edge rushers on the roster for next season.

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With a few spots open on the roster and a need for starters at the position, expect the Detroit Lions to use some of their expected $38 million in cap space to find some playmakers in free agency. Along with all of that money, the team also has nine picks in the 2019 draft, including a likely top-10 pick in the first round. They will likely be able to find at least one starter and more depth players at both defensive end and linebacker who can provide some help with the pass rush.