While most of the attention for the Detroit Lions heading into this month’s NFL draft has focused on the offensive line and defensive tackle, the franchise desperately needs help at another position -- defensive end.
Yes, the Lions have an emerging star in Ezekiel Ansah and he showed he can handle double teams in the absence of Ndamukong Suh just fine. They also have Devin Taylor, who could see an expanded role in his fourth season -- a contract year. And the franchise signed Wallace Gilberry from Cincinnati, but it’s only a one-year deal.
But there’s a problem. Taylor and Gilberry are free agents after the season, so the Lions’ long-term outlook at the position is Ansah (who has a likely option year and then potentially a franchise-tag year if there isn’t a new contract signed before then) and nothing else. So when Detroit gets on the clock in the draft at the end of the month, expect defensive end to be a place the team looks.
That likely means taking a long look at Clemson defensive end Shaq Lawson, the No. 3 prospect at the position according to Scouts, Inc. and the No. 17 overall player. He’s not as tall as the prototypical defensive end, but he is a player who can make a difference for the Lions against the run immediately. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.70 seconds and more importantly the 20-yard shuttle in in 4.21 seconds.
He had 60 tackles last season, including 25.5 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks, showing he can rush the passer along with stopping the run. And he believes his inside spin move is “deadly,” likely a sign of what he’ll be trying to use to beat offensive linemen early in his career.
“I bring a lot of different moves to the pass rush,” Lawson said at the NFL combine in February. “People say I’m mostly a power guy. I don’t see myself as just a power guy. I can spin, beat you off the edge, run past you, everything.”
Lawson is one of a group of defensive ends the Lions could look at on the first two days of the draft. His college teammate, Kevin Dodd, is another intriguing prospect. He’s the No. 4 defensive end in the draft and the No. 37 overall prospect. He has better size than Lawson (6-5, 277) and had similar college production last year (62 tackles, 23.5 tackles for loss, 12 sacks).
Like his college teammate, he believes he can be good against the run and the pass in the NFL.
“As a defensive end, you judge a defensive end as his sack numbers,” Dodd said at the combine. “But when I turn on the film, I look at his effort, his ability and the guy’s body of work. That’s kind of the guy I was.
“I was always to the ball. You throw on the tape, you’ll see Kevin Dodd at the ball.”
Beyond the two Clemson teammates, the Lions could take a look at Oklahoma State’s Emmanuel Ogbah, Illinois’ Jihad Ward, Penn State’s Carl Nassib, Florida’s Jonathan Bullard and Michigan State’s Shilique Calhoun as potential defensive ends between the first two days of the draft.