Detroit Lions defensive line
When that dust settles you can see that much of the depth is already established and most of the roster is already accounted for unless injuries or trades happen. The other thing that’s technically possible is that a cap casualty gets picked up and displaces a current player. Obviously, rosters are fluid things.
Going back to the start of the list, the interior of the defensive line is new and will be rotating. Shelton only plays about half of the total snaps by his team, so Williams and Strong will likely shuttle in to spell him. On some instances the defense may switch to a 4-man line which would likely prompt Hand to come in as the 3-tech, keeping Shelton as the nose tackle.
The depth here is critical and keeping players healthy, or the inability to do so, was a huge factor in 2019. The Detroit Lions were 21st in yards rushing allowed (115.9/ yards per game) and that was just about their best number statistically from last year, defensively.
They were 31st in yards (400.3/game), tied for 29th in sacks (28.0 sacks), 26th in scoring defense (26.4 point-per-game) and 28th in pressures with 124, those numbers have to change for 2020 to be different.
In other words, the pass-rush is a bigger problem than the rush defense but neither were very good and that starts along the defensive front.
All stats from the Pro Football Reference website. Detroit Lions current roster, here, from the Detroit Lions website.
Who to watch for during camp
Key players to watch along the line include second-year tackle Kevin Strong, end Austin Bryant, and tackle Olive Sagapolu. End-tackle Frank Herron is also interesting because he is a Da’Shawn Hand clone who comes into play as depth for the “big end” and tackle role the Lions employ often on third downs. Hand has had a tough time getting healthy, so it wouldn’t be crazy to see a versatile lineman get kept to backup that role.
Bryant is another end who’s had difficulty healing up to play in 2020. If his struggles continue, his role as a down-end, similar to Flowers or as a Jack (stand-up rusher) linebacker are in danger. If he gets shelved on injured reserve, (IR), his spot becomes an open one, too. As of this writing he is listed on the active-physically unable to perform (PUP) list.
Strong made a great impression as a hard worker on the Detroit Lions staff last year, making the final roster facing longer odds as a free agent pickup after the draft. This year, with a depleted interior, Strong should have a solid chance to show more if he can stay available. He offers a similar skillset to Williams, able to play several positions, which is why we listed him as a “probable” keeper.
Olive Sagapolu is a stocky, run-stuffer type who would be the next-best candidate to truly back-up Danny Shelton as a nose tackle. Sagapolu’s value is dependent upon where the coaching staff feels depth is more of an issue; he fits the mold for that 1-tech role but offers little else.
Rookies, end Jashon Cornell, and tackle John Penisini are in a poor position to stay on the active roster but could find their way to the practice squad and be active temporarily based on the new roster rules established by the new collective bargaining agreement.
Practice squad players can be brought up for two weeks to the active roster without technically changing their status on the practice squad. This effectively can make the active roster grow to 55 at points without the Lions having to cut any players.
Prediction: Strong, Bryant, and Herron stay for a total of nine players.