Dan Campbell promised us! Our Lions would take no prisoners! Break some kneecaps! But alas, the defense has been vastly toothless in the past few seasons. The team allowed 27.5 points per game, 31st out of 32 NFL teams. The rushing defense was most of the blame – allowing 2,296 yards – 28th in the NFL. The passing defense allowed the 24th most yardage, and the Lions often found themselves in negative game scripts.
The defense has been addressed heavily in the draft, and second-overall pick Aidan Hutchinson gives them a cornerstone pass rusher. They retained Charles Harris, their leading sack guy in 2021, and the leading tackler, safety Tracy Walker. Overall, the team had a few statistical stalwarts for IDP but lacked defensive effectiveness.
The main attraction on defense becomes the University of Michigan’s Hutchinson, and the hometown kid can bring the swagger. He was invited to New York as a Heisman finalist after notching 14 sacks and 62 total tackles while leading Michigan to a College Football Playoff spot.
Aidan Hutchinson showcases a combination of outstanding play strength, hand usage, and his pass rush IQ— The 33rd Team (@The33rdTeamFB) April 12, 2022
He is able to use his bull rush to knock the tackle backwards and off balance, and he displays good timing with his hands to shed the OT pic.twitter.com/kvt3MKEFK2
The Lions only had 30 sacks in 2021, and Hutchinson should make it possible to increase that number just with his sheer presence. Teams must account for him, making it easier for other linemen and linebackers to get pressure. Hutchinson is a DE1, perhaps not initially, but he’s got the potential to be one for the next decade.
Harris was listed at LB last season but has now been tagged as a DE in MFL – helping his overall fantasy prognosis, but I am hesitant to give him much of a value boost. Harris led the team with 7.5 sacks, and that’s close to his ceiling. He added 65 total tackles, and if he replicates that from the DE spot, Harris would be a top ten DE likely. But those numbers were from when he played 76.42% of the defensive snaps at LB.
It depends on how Detroit uses Harris. If they move him around and allow him to take some snaps at LB, it will help his value maintain. The team is running a 4-3 defense now, which may affect how much time Harris sees at LB. If he’s on the line more, I see fewer tackles, which drops his DE value.
In a league with a premium to start defensive tackles, I still like the veteran Brockers. He’s not what he once was, but he’s still a steady middle-of-defense guy who will flirt with 50 total tackles. Consistent, but not beautiful.
Best of the Rest
There is solid depth but not anyone else I am interested in for IDP. Romeo Okwara is worth a deep bench spot; he will start the season on the PUP but did have ten sacks in 2020. He could benefit from rushing opposite Hutchinson. Alim McNeill is a big hoss in the middle but nothing to write home about. Levi Onwuzurike and rookie Josh Paschal will be rotational pieces, and I don’t see either being fantasy viable.
For IDP, the Lions linebackers have been an absolute wasteland. Anzalone brought a hard-nosed playing style to a unit that very much needed it. He tallied 78 tackles, and seven passes defended in 14 games last season. He’s a team captain. From an IDP standpoint, that puts him in LB3/4 territory and a solid guy to have on your squad.
Best of the Rest
I’m going to put all the rest in this category; it gets ugly quickly in the Motor City. Jarrad Davis – can the former first-round pick finally deliver on his talent and draft pedigree? I am not banking on it and will avoid him at all costs until I see Davis do it. Derrick Barnes raked in 67 tackles and a pair of sacks, but his role is undefined, and that output is near his ceiling.
With all the linebacker talent still in free agency, I can’t understand why the Lions aren’t making some phone calls. This could be the worst linebacking unit in the NFL – PFF has them ranked at 28th going into the season.
With 105 total tackles, Walker set a career-high and led the team. He’s a piece the secondary can build around, and the Lions locked him up for three years. With his current production, Walker will hover from a low-end S1 to a high-end S2, and the LB crew will afford him tackle opportunities in droves.
With a passer rating of only 57.5 when targeted, Oruwariye secured six interceptions and 57 total tackles. Production like that at the corner spot is good for CB3/CB4 numbers, and he should replicate them going forward. Oruwariye is good cornerback depth for your IDP squad.
The return of 2020’s first-round selection should massively help the secondary, and teams must choose which corner to throw at. Okudah had 47 tackles as a rookie with an interception. I could see him tallying nearly 50 again with a few interceptions and could be a starter in IDP leagues that require cornerbacks.
Best of the Rest
Despite being destroyed by Derrick Henry, Deshon Elliott is still alive and projected to be the starting strong safety for Detroit. For IDP, that doesn’t mean a whole lot, but he does help the secondary overall. I like rookie safety Kerby Joseph to fill in for either safety and as someone to stash for down the road. He is an intelligent football player but only started one year in college – and was a first-team All-Big 10 and PFF All-American.
The arrow is pointing up for the Lions as a whole. The offense is amassing weapons, and the defense has added a few studs. The LB position is a huge weakness, but an improved front four with a switch to the 4-3 should help mask that weakness.
If the front four and secondary can hold a few times, the offense can operate with positive or neutral game scripts. I believe the defense is better, but I can’t see them even approaching a middle-of-the-road finish statistically yet.
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