The pass rush is the key
This past season rookie fifth-round pick, Austin Bryant out of Clemson was an unheralded part of the Tigers dominant defensive line that defeated Alabama to win the National Championship a year ago. Yet he was productive despite the torn pectoral muscle he played through.
Bryant’s rookie campaign with the Lions was almost a complete loss as he rehabbed from surgery to correct the injury. He only played in three games down the stretch with eight tackles and a couple of quarterback pressures.
Yet he has enough ability to be a contributor for a team that desperately needs a pass-rush. Will he dominate off the edge, not likely. At least yet. But while we could say that Jahlani Tavai‘s play is very important to the linebacker corps, Will Harris needs to be more consistent at safety, Amani Oruwariye has to continue to develop and T.J. Hockenson has to start playing to his draft position, Bryant plays the position of biggest need.
While the return of a healthy Da’Shawn Hand is incredibly important to a rebuilding defensive line, at the moment anyone who can make some noise off the edge to help out Trey Flowers is the most important piece of the puzzle.
I agree that the linebackers and secondary need to be better, but on passing downs, how much or little pressure the front seven generates determines the outcome of the play more than the coverage.
This is why, if by some miracle that Chase Young fell to the Lions, that his presence would make a difference. Even while being young and green and learning. Because his ability and motor would make opposing offenses have to pay attention to him because he will wreak some havoc regardless.
Now barring Bob Quinn finding someone else to step in and be a threat off the edge, Bryant is the candidate. His nine sacks his senior year with that torn pectoral muscle is an indicator that when healthy he could be a contributor off the edge.
Instead of being discouraged about missing so much of the season, Bryant tried his best to soak up everything he could from the coaches and his teammates. He worked as hard as he was able to given his recovery from the pectoral injury.
Even if the Lions hit the lottery and somehow had Chase Young fall into their hands, having depth that can contribute and create pressure on opposing passers would only help make the defense that much better.
Does all of this mean Bryant will be an unstoppable force off the edge, again not necessarily, but stepping his game up to be a positive addition to a team in desperate need of help rushing the passer makes him the player from last seasons draft class that needs to step up the most.
The more of the 2019 draft class that does step up the better, but if the Lions defense continues to be unable to get to opposing passers, then they might as well get comfy in the NFC North cellar because that’s where they’ll stay.