Detroit Lions: Who are the X-Factors on defense this year?

Trey Flowers, Detroit Lions (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)
Trey Flowers, Detroit Lions (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images) /
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John Penisini, Utah Utes
John Penisini, Utah Utes (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images) /

Defensive Line

Trey Flowers is the clear headliner of the defensive line. Fellow ends Da’Shawn Hand and Romeo Okwara are looking to bounce back from injury-plagued and/or ineffective seasons. Okwara’s brother Julian adds another edge rusher, and draft analysts felt the Lions made a great call grabbing him early in the third round this year.

Meanwhile, the defensive tackle spot will feature some new faces in Danny Shelton and Nick Williams, veteran free agents who enter the fray without much fanfare. The reality is that the personnel for this position is lacking, and waiting until the sixth round to address the position was a main critique of how Detroit spent their draft assets this year.

X-Factor – John Penisini, DT

With Shelton, Williams, and John Atkins known quantities at this point, it seems that the way to boost the output from the tackles would be the rookie outplaying his draft slot. Penisini labeled himself the “most slept on in the draft” by going No. 197 overall. In actuality, even that was a little bit high for his pre-draft evaluation, which had him as a seventh rounder or undrafted.

Playing on a very talented line in college, one that saw his line mates Leki Fotu and Bradlee Anae also picked before him, Penisini is used to being overlooked. The odds are against him, but the Lions have precedent with guys like Kerry Hyder and Anthony Zettel coming out of nowhere to become key contributors on the line in the past. Penisini would need a similar showing to raise the profile of the tackles, which appears to be a roster weakness heading into the season.