Something Detroit Lions fans have longed for over the past couple of years was for the team to draft some help along the interior of the defensive line as more than an afterthought with slim chances to make a difference or make the team. The team’s offseason activity in the form of “out with the old, in with the new” led to a quick answer to those fans’ hopes. And not in the form of one higher draft pick, but two.
Lions general manager Brad Holmes and head coach Dan Campbell made it notoriously clear they wanted this team to bite off some kneecaps. (Sorry, we’re all probably getting tired of hearing about that one already.) They backed up their talk by investing heavily in the trenches during the draft.
Enter defensive tackles Levi Onwuzurike and Alim McNeill. They were drafted with back-to-back Detroit Lions selections in the second and third rounds – the highest selections at the position since 2016. And their expectations to make an immediate impact are much higher than any selection at the position since then.
Here’s what Detroit Lions senior writer Tim Twentyman wrote recently on the team’s official website in his Rookie minicamp observations.
” … one thing that stood out Sunday was just how quick both players are off the snap. They both lined up in multiple techniques in Aaron Glenn’s 3-4 scheme. Both have a chance to be a handful for offensive linemen.”
It’s nice to hear that type of report out of the rookie minicamp. There’s been a feeling that the team was glossing over the interior of the defensive line, hoping some patches and signings here and there would make it good enough to get by. But the results on the field led to the Lions being ranked 30th in rush defense in 2020.
It’s not like we expect the new draftees to turn this defense into a top 10 unit out of the gate in 2021. Improvement is the name of the game. Addressing the weakness head-on instead of hoping it will be just good enough is already a step in the right direction.
Adding players who are quick off the snap and can disrupt the play for opposing offenses is exactly what this Detroit Lions defense has been lacking in the middle of the line. Not anymore. Collapsing the pocket early in a play can only help the secondary, including second-year cornerback Jeff Okudah.
The team is building on the needs of today instead of the potential need of a quarterback or other position in the future. And it has the potential to make the team as a whole better today as well as in the future. Plugging the holes upfront on the defense is a great start and a potential for this team’s biggest strength in the coming years.