Detroit Lions roster preview: Defensive line

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The Detroit Lions’ defensive line was one of the team’s biggest weaknesses in 2017. How will their offseason acquisitions shape the unit next season?

The defensive line of the Detroit Lions was a major disappointment last season. The unit lost key role players to injury, and the lack of depth was exposed on a weekly basis. The front simply was unable to get the job done, as they struggled mightily to stop the run and apply pressure to the quarterback.

The Lions have a couple of reasons to be hopeful the unit is due for a turnaround in 2018. Head coach Matt Patricia is a defensive guru, and he surrounded himself with defensive line specialists on his coaching staff in Paul Pasqualoni and Bo Davis.

Bob Quinn applied the franchise tag to retain Ezekiel Ansah, signed free agent Sylvester Williams, and used a fourth-round draft pick on Da’Shawn Hand.

Kerry Hyder Jr. will return from a ruptured Achilles’ that cost him all of last season, and Anthony Zettel looks to build off a strong sophomore campaign.

Due to the versatility demanded in Patricia’s scheme, I will not break down by position here. It is assumed these guys may play on the interior as well as the edge.


Ezekiel Ansah

He’s the best true pass-rusher the Lions have, and this year will be a true test of his durability and versatility. A lot is expected of Ansah, who has one season to convince the Lions and the rest of the NFL that he is worthy of a long-term investment.

Anthony Zettel

Entering his third season, Zettel hopes to continue to improve after notching 6.5 sacks in 2017. He established himself as a worthy contributor on the edge with potential to develop into an impact player.

Kerry Hyder Jr.

It’s hard find a more likeable player than Hyder. He survived final cuts in 2016 and was a force to be reckoned with during the regular season. Hyder led the Lions in sacks (8.0) while also tallying 11 tackles for loss and 19 QB hits. If he is able to return to form, it will be a welcome upgrade to the entire unit.

A’Shawn Robinson

Look for Robinson to be this year’s breakout player on the defensive line. The Lions saw flashes of Robinson’s potential in the last two seasons, and is primed to make a quantum leap with the tutelage of Patricia and Davis, his former coach at Alabama.

Sylvester Williams

While many remember Williams from a ho-hum 2017 campaign with the Tennessee Titans, people actually forget that he is a former first-round pick. He spent his first four seasons with the Denver Broncos, and won a Super Bowl with them in 2016. Williams will immediately assist on the interior portion of the defensive line and improve a horrid run defense.

Da’Shawn Hand

The Lions spent a fourth-round pick on Hand, and it is difficult to imagine a scenario where he does not make the team. A two-time National Champion at Alabama, the expectation is that Hand will contribute as a rotational player in his rookie season.


Behind the aforementioned six players, it gets difficult to predict how the depth will play out. I predict a total of nine defensive line players on the roster. Here’s the best guess for the final three:

Cornelius Washington

The 28-year-old defensive end found a role as a rotational player with the Lions last season after spending his first four years with the Chicago Bears. He tallied 24 tackles to go along with 2.5 sacks and three passes defended. His experience and production gives him a good chance to make the final roster.

JoJo Wicker and Josh Fatu

Both players are undrafted rookies with a lot of mass. Fatu is listed at 6’2” and 310 pounds – a load of a defensive tackle – while Wicker weighs in at 296 pounds. The Lions website does not list a specific position for Wicker along the defensive line, hinting that he may have some versatility. Each player finished their final collegiate campaign with six sacks.

Next: Previewing the Lions' offensive line

The Lions did not haul in a marquee free agent pass rusher due to a thin market, and did not address the defensive line in the draft until the fourth round. However, with Patricia’s dynamic scheme and new coaching staff, the defensive line is ready for a big improvement in 2018.