Detroit Lions sign former third-round defensive end; New pass rusher?

Will Clarke, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
Will Clarke, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images) /

The Detroit Lions are in need of another pass rusher. Does their latest signing qualify?

The Detroit Lions forced a bit of a defensive resurgence this offseason. With the team posting a 3-12-1 record last season, and the defense ranking 31st in the NFL allowing 6,406 yards to opposing offenses, something had to be done.

The Lions revamped two main areas of their defense for 2020. That being the interior of their defensive line and their secondary. Gone are veteran defensive tackles Damon Harrison, A’Shawn Robinson, and Mike Daniels. Gone are cornerbacks Darius Slay, Rashaan Melvin, and safety Tavon Wilson.

In their place, Detroit welcomed defensive tackle Danny Shelton, Nick Williams, and a pair of rookies in John Penisini and Jashon Cornell. In the secondary, the Lions used their first-round selection on Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah. The team also signed former Pro Bowl corner Desmond Trufant and traded the New England Patriots for veteran safety Duron Harmon.

Despite all the changes, pass rush still remains a major concern for the Motor City. Last season, the Lions registered a total of 28 sacks as a team, which was tied for the second-lowest amount in the NFL. And a player responsible for 7.0 of those sacks, linebacker Devon Kennard, was promptly released this offseason.

The biggest addition made to potentially boost their pass rush was in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft. Detroit acquired Notre Dame defensive end Julian Okwara, who recorded 5.0 sacks in nine games last season before suffering a broken fibula. The rookie figures to join his brother Romeo Okwara and Trey Flowers in the defensive end rotation.

Now, the Lions have added another name to the depth chart with Sunday’s reported signing of defensive lineman Will Clarke. A former third-round selection back in 2014 by the Cincinnati Bengals, Clarke hasn’t actually played in the NFL since 2018. In fact, the 29-year old defender was in the XFL earlier this year.

What’s important for fans of the Lions to know is that Clarke is far from the elite pass rusher the team needs. He’s never registered more than 4.0 sacks in a single professional season and he’s never started in an NFL game. In college, Clarke recorded 50 tackles, 17.0 tackles for loss, and 6.0 sacks in 12 games as a senior at West Virginia in 2013.

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Clarke might be better viewed as a camp body who’s a long shot to crack the final roster. He was added to the team in the wake of 2020 seventh-rounder Jashon Cornell landing on Injured Reserve after suffered a season-ending leg injury this past week.

The 6-foot-6, 275-pound Will Clarke has had some experience sliding inside at defensive tackle despite his size. And the Detroit Lions probably view that position flexibility as an asset especially as they look to spell players during training camp.