After a year with a horrendous pass rush, the Detroit Lions released Devon Kennard this off-season which opens a starting spot at the JACK backer position. The Lions do have a few versatile options such as Jamie Collins and Austin Bryant. However, Collins typically has played as an off-ball linebacker more than a true edge rusher. Bryant is another option, but he was injured last year and had very limited reps. The Lions could seriously benefit from adding a piece either to start or compete with Bryant. Here are options in every round to improve the defense:
Round 1: Chase Young, Ohio State
2019 Stats: 46 tackles, 21 TFLs, 16.5 sacks, 7 forced fumbles
Measurables: 6’5, 264 lbs, 33 3/4″ arm length
Chase Young has been the dream draft get for a majority of Lions fans this season for good reason. Last year, he dominated the Big Ten and ended the season 4th in Heisman voting despite missing two games to an NCAA violation. He is an exceptional athlete who has both power and speed around the edge. Young isn’t just an athlete, though. He has a great variety of pass rushing moves and does a phenomenal job using his IQ to set up his moves.
Some fans have mentioned his fall in production where he had zero sacks in the final three games of his season. Watching those games, he was able to generate pressure throughout despite all the extra attention placed on him. If fans are still not convinced, watching him destroy Big Ten powers Wisconsin and Penn State for seven sacks in two games should do the trick. Young would be a tremendous pass rusher as a JACK with the athleticism to do even more.
Round 2: Zach Baun, Wisconsin
2019 Stats: 75 tackles, 19.5 TFLs, 12.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 1 int
Measurables: 6’2, 238 lbs, 32 3/4″ arm length, 4.65 40 yard dash, 7.0 3 cone
Zach Baun played primarily on the edge in college, but at 238 lbs with short arms, he is too small to play there full time. This actually makes him perfect for the JACK role. On early downs, he could play as an off ball linebacker and rush the passer on third down. In college, he was very good at diagnosing plays and combined with his quickness made him a force against the run. He also showed some ability to drop out into zone coverage, albeit in limited reps. As a pass rusher, he uses his hands very well and has a variety of counters allowing him to get to the quarterback.
One of the issues with Baun is his short arms. General manager Bob Quinn has mentioned that he wants players with a large wingspan in the past — the most recent example being Jahlani Tavai. Baun does a good job using his hands well to mitigate this, but there are times he struggles to disengage from blocks. Additionally, Baun is not an elite athlete. He has enough quickness to be an effective rusher, but he will never be an top-tier pass rusher like Von Miller or Myles Garrett. Baun would be another versatile play maker for the Lions would could provide a nice boost to the pass rush from day one.
Round 3: Josh Uche, Michigan
2019 Stats: 33 tackles, 10.5 TFLs, 8.5 sacks
Measurables: 6’1, 245 lbs, 33 5/8″ arm length
The Lions got a great view of Josh Uche at the Senior Bowl where he was dominant the whole week. Like Baun, he has the ability to play off ball and on the edge but are very different players. Uche is still a raw player with only one year of starting experience. His ceiling is through the roof though and could be a force with the right coaching.
As a pass rusher, he primarily uses his athleticism and bend to get to the passer. He has sown some good counters, but needs to continue to develop them. His athleticism also pays off against the run where he uses his quickness to avoid blocks and chase down ball carriers. He can struggle with getting off blocks which will need to improved with coaching. Uche even shows great promise as a cover linebacker. He has flashed ability to lineup in man coverage against tight ends and running backs which is a skill the Lions defense sorely needs. Uche is a raw player, but if developed correctly, he could be a plus player in all three phases of the game.
Round 4: Bradlee Anae, Utah
2019 Stats: 41 tackles, 14 TFLs, 13 sacks
Measurables: 6’3, 257 lbs, 32 1/8″ arm length, 4.93 40 yard dash, 7.44 3 cone
Bradlee Anae is the other half of the North’s squad fearsome pass rush at the Senior Bowl. In college, he was incredibly productive and will enter the league pro-ready. He is a tremendous run defender who can set the edge and penetrate into the backfield. He uses his hands exceptionally well to keep blockers off his body in the pass and run game. As a pass rusher, he is able to get to the passer using an incredible motor and smart hand usage.
Anae should be able to contribute right away, but his ceiling is limited. He is a below average athlete with relatively shorter arms. In the pros, he will never be a top tier pass rusher, but rather will have to get sacks by collapsing the pocket and giving constant effort. The big determinant of Anae’s success will be his ability against the run. The worry of Anae’s is opposing teams will attack him in the run game due to his limited athleticism. His ability to overcome this will be the difference between a solid starter verses situational pass rusher. Anae plays with great effort and is pro ready to make an impact from day 1.
Round 5: Anfernee Jennings, Alabama
2019 Stats: 83 tackles, 12.5 TFLs, 8 sacks, 1 INT
Measurables: 6’2, 256 lbs, 32 7/8″ arm length
Anfernee Jennings is another productive college player who should be a solid NFL player. He was a team captain and leader like other recent draft picks such as S Will Harris. Coming for Alabama, he should already have experience in a similar defensive scheme.
As a player, he does not wow in any category. He is a stout run defender who does a good job containing his gap and holding the edge. As a pass rusher, he is unspectacular. He has a good bull rush and will not allow the QB to break contain but will struggle to win one on one on the edge. Jennings is a solid late round option who will provide solid play on the edge for many years to come.
Round 6: Jonathan Garvin, Miami
2019 Stats: 37 tackles, 9 TFLs, 5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles
Measurables: 6’4, 263 lbs, 34″ arm length, 4.82 40 yard dash
Jonathan Garvin might not be able to produce right away but is a good developmental prospect. He has a lot of what the Lions look for as a pass rusher with an NFL build already with incredibly long arms. He has above average burst and athleticism to go with his great size.
As all sixth round picks, Garvin has his fair share of warts. Garvin needs to greatly improve his technique as he can’t win with just athleticism in the pros. He has a tendency to play tall which allows good tackles to block him in the run game. He also needs to improve his hand usage and develop pass rushing moves. Garvin might not be ready for a year or two, but if he can improve his technique, he could become a productive player off the edge.
Round 7: Trevis Gipson, Tulsa
2019 Stats: 49 tackles, 15 TFLs, 8 sacks, 2 forced fumbles
Measurables: 6’3, 261 lbs, 33 7/8″ arm length
Trevis Gipson is the definition of a developmental player as he was a late bloomer. Gipson gained nearly 60 pounds in college and improved every year. He has a lot of traits to get excited about. He is an explosive athlete with bend to get around tackles and great length and size.
As far as technique goes, Gipson needs to improve in order to stick around in the NFL. Currently, he does not have enough anchor to defend the run consistently. His handwork and pass rushing moves also need to be improved greatly. Overall, Gipson is a ball of clay that needs to be molded by a coaching staff, but if he continues on his trajectory, he could be an above average starter.
All stats from sports-reference.com and all measuables from NFL.com