Detroit Lions: Can this late bloomer reach new heights in 2020?

Nick Williams, Chicago Bears (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
Nick Williams, Chicago Bears (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) /

The Detroit Lions signed this 30-year old late bloomer to secure the interior of their defensive line in 2020. Will he continue to reach new heights in Motown?

Coming off a 3-12-1 regular season, the Detroit Lions obviously struggled in several areas. The most prominent being availability as starting quarterback Matthew Stafford missed eight games due to a back injury. And those contests played without Stafford under center were all losses.

But this offseason, the Lions have been about the business of trying to strengthen their weaknesses. In the case of Stafford, veteran backup passer Chase Daniel was signed to a three-year deal as a free agent. But another area of major concern was the interior of the Lions’ defensive line.

Veterans A’Shawn Robinson and Damon Harrison each recorded 527 defensive snaps for Detroit in 2019, leading all defensive tackles on the team. Both had their struggles last year and neither was retained this offseason.

Instead, the Lions signed defensive tackles Danny Shelton and Nick Williams to presumably take their place. Shelton is a former New England Patriot whose 6-foot-2, 345-pound frame makes him the perfect anchor for head coach Matt Patricia’s defensive scheme.

As for Williams, he signed a two-year, $10 million deal to come to Detroit despite being a one-hit-wonder for the Chicago Bears last season. A former seventh-round selection by the Pittsburgh Steelers back in 2013, the 30-year old journeyman defender found himself in Chicago in 2018 after spending the previous season out of the league.

Last year, Williams played a full-16 game season for the first time in his entire NFL career. Playing nearly 50 percent of the team’s defensive snaps, he rewarded the Bears by racking up 42 total tackles and 6.0 sacks. Those were the first sacks of his professional career as well.

Williams is the very definition of a late bloomer. Here’s what Justin Rogers of The Detroit News wrote recently about the veteran defensive tackle, noting his versatility and ability as a run defender making him a good fit for Detroit’s gap-control front.

"“Williams safely projects to fill A’Shawn Robinson’s role in Detroit’s defense, lining up primarily as a 3-tech tackle alongside nose tackle Danny Shelton. Williams should also continue to see some reps in those nose alignments when Shelton is on the sideline … While he might not be an elite pass rusher, he showed more life in that department than Robinson did in recent seasons.”"

Rogers also mentioned the fact Williams didn’t play many third downs in Chicago last season with all of his sacks coming on second down. Could we possibly see an increase in those sack numbers in Detroit if he’s given more opportunities?

One area the Lions have really struggled with is getting to opposing quarterbacks, racking up just 28 total sacks in 2019, tied for second lowest in the league. Imagine getting a double-digit sack number from a player at defensive tackle? Harrison led the team with 2.0 sacks at the position last year.

Both Shelton and Williams should see significant snaps at defensive tackle this year in the Motor City. But don’t discount the other defensive tackles on the roster like the versatile Da’Shawn Hand, John Atkins, Olive Sagapolu, and Kevin Strong.

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The Detroit Lions were apparently secure enough in their current depth chart at defensive tackle that they opted not to address the position until the sixth and seventh rounds of the 2020 NFL Draft. While rookies John Penisini and Jashon Cornell will attempt to make the final roster in Detroit this summer, the Lions seem content to roll with new additions Danny Shelton and Nick Williams to lead their defensive resurgence in the trenches … for now.