Da’Shawn Hand is the X-Factor for Detroit Lions defense

Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /

Da’Shawn Hand could be the key to turning around the Detroit Lions’ defense in 2020.

The Detroit Lions defense was putrid last year, and a lot of their struggles can be traced back to lack of a consistent pass rush. The Lions added Jamie Collins and Julian Okwara to bolster the pass rush, but the key to their success could be the health of Da’Shawn Hand.

Optimism was high last offseason for the Lions pass rush with the addition of Trey Flowers and Mike Daniels to a defensive line already featuring Damon Harrison, A’Shawn Robinson, and Da’Shawn Hand coming off strong seasons. Unfortunately, injuries got to Harrison, Daniels, and Hand before the D-line was able to make an impact.

This year, Robinson, Harrison, and Devon Kennard are gone after all had largely ineffective seasons. Replacing them will be Danny Shelton,  Nick Williams, and a combination of Austin Bryant and Julian Okwara. If all these additions pan out, the Lions are still missing a disruptive force on the interior of the line. This is where Hand comes in.

Expectations were high for Hand coming off of a strong rookie year where he accumulated three sacks and two forced fumbles in a limited role (Pro Football Reference). While those stats may not seem like much, advanced metrics such as PFF loved him even more, giving him a grade of 85.9, which was one of the highest given to a rookie defensive tackle. In his sophomore year, unfortunately, he constantly battled elbow and ankle injuries allowing him only to play in three games.

This upcoming season expect Hand to have a significant role if he can stay healthy. He is considered a big end where he can play as both a down defensive end and three-technique and has even played the nose tackle position on passing downs. At the end, he can use his size and strength to overpower tackles and stuff the run, and at tackle, he can use his quickness to his advantage to penetrate into the backfield.

His ability to play multiple positions allows him to play on all downs with different personnel. On rushing downs, he could play end with Flowers, Shelton, and Nick Williams or tackle with Flowers, Romeo Okwara, and Shelton. On passing downs, he could play nose or three-technique with a pass-rushing specialist such as Julian Okwara coming off the edge.

The play below shows a glimpse of his overall potential as a pass rusher. He lines up at nose tackle and gets double teamed. He can beat the double team and sack Aaron Rodgers forcing a fumble. Finally, he has the presence of mind to quickly get off Rodgers and recover the fumble.

Da’Shawn Hand could provide Coach Patricia another inside out threat who can both stop the run and rush the passer. In the run game, he can eat up blocks and penetrate into the backfield, creating havoc and allowing the linebackers to fly around and make plays on the ball. In the passing game, he can disrupt the pocket from the interior, making the lives of other pass rushers and the secondary much easier.

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If Hand can consistently play up to his potential, he should be able to improve the play of all the Detroit Lions defenders.