Detroit Lions, NFC North 2019 preview: Edge defenders

Da'Shawn Hand, Detroit Lions (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Da'Shawn Hand, Detroit Lions (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /
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(Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
(Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images) /

Leading up to NFL training camps, SideLion Report will preview each position group for the Detroit Lions, and compare it with the same unit from the rest of the NFC North. Today, we look at edge defenders.

Over the past year, few position groups in the NFC North have seen as many high-profile and high-priced additions as the edge defender unit. It makes sense too, as the Detroit Lions and their divisional rivals understand the importance of rushing the passer and helping generate stops in the run game, coveted skills in NFL edge players.

The NFC North arguably boasts the deepest group of starting quarterbacks in the entire league, so slowing them down will go a long way towards determining who comes out on top after Week 17. As we examine the changes and projections for the edge players in the division, note that for this list, players typically listed as defensive ends and outside linebackers qualify for this analysis.

Detroit Lions

Key returning players: Devon Kennard, Romeo Okwara, Eric Lee

New Additions: Trey Flowers, Austin Bryant (Rookie)

Key Losses: Ziggy Ansah, Kerry Hyder

As difficult as 2018 was for the Detroit Lions, there are reasons for optimism heading into 2019. Much of that stems from the additions to and the potential of their edge group.

It should be noted though, that under Lions head coach Matt Patricia, either when he led a team or as defensive coordinator, only one player has ever recorded double digit sacks in a season – edge defender Chandler Jones with the Patriots in 2013 and 2015. That could be the case again in 2019.

Gone is Ziggy Ansah, the gifted yet perpetually hobbled former first rounder, on whom the Lions pinned too many hopes in recent seasons. Ansah was never able to come close to reproducing his career best mark of 14.5 sacks from 2015, and he quietly signed with the Seattle Seahawks in free agency.

To replace Ansah, the Lions handed out their largest ever free agency contract ($90 million/five years) to Trey Flowers, who played for Patricia with the Patriots from 2015-2018. While never registering more than 7.5 sacks in a season, Flowers sets a mean edge, is an expert run defender, can occasionally kick inside and consistently generates pressure; he will be a crucial element of the Lions’ defensive front.

Also featured  will be Romeo Okwara, who enjoyed a career-best season in 2018 after the Lions plucked him off of the scrap heap from the New York Giants just prior to the season opener. Okwara led the team in sacks with 7.5, and the Lions will be looking for more growth from the fourth-year player with the likelihood of a starter’s share of snaps. He could see some opportunities as a standup linebacker as well.

Rookie Austin Bryant, the often forgotten member of National Champion Clemson’s vaunted defensive line, was drafted in the fourth round by Detroit in April. He is recovering from a chest injury which could limit his participation in training camp, and subsequently his production as a rookie.

Additionally, Devon Kennard enters 2019 looking to expand on his promising first year with the Lions. A solid run defender and developing pass rusher, Kennard is functional enough to fill many different roles, and the Lions will look for him to at least match his career best mark of 7.0 sacks from a year ago.