Breaking down the Detroit Lions’ Senior Bowl roster on defense

Pride of Detroit

Senior Bowl practices are getting closer by the day, and over the past week, they have been announcing the players who will be on the rosters that will be coached by the Detroit Lions and New York Jets.

Earlier in the week, after the offense was released in its entirety, we shared our evaluations and projected where they would fit on the American team (Lions-coached) depth chart. Now that the entire defense has been reviewed, it’s time to do the same with this group of players.

The Lions and Jets do get to request specific players they would prefer to have on their rosters, and the Senior Bowl does their best to appease the NFL coaching staffs, while also keeping rosters balanced and competitive.

With that in mind, it’s worth paying close attention to which 2022 NFL Draft prospects get selected for the Lions roster, as coaches will get an up-close look at them through practices and in the game on February 5.

Interior defensive line

  • 3T, Devonte Wyatt, Georgia
  • 4i, Phidarian Mathis, Alabama
  • 4i/5T, Zachary Carter, Florida
  • 3T/5T/EDGE, Josh Paschal, Kentucky
  • NT, John Ridgeway, Arkansas
  • NT, Neil Farrell Jr., LSU

Wyatt’s Georgia teammate Jordan Davis gets all the national love, but don’t sleep on “the other” Bulldog defensive tackle. Heading into the offseason, Davis holds the DT1 spot on my board, Texas A&M’s DeMarvin Leal is next, then Wyatt is DT3. Likely a 3-technique in the NFL, his get-off is his primary weapon, and while he can also hold his own against the run, length and raw power are potential obstacles.

Mathis, who I profiled on my draft watchlist during the season, fits the mold of most Alabama defensive tackles as “he’s more run stuffer than pass rusher but he would fit into the Michael Brockers (4i/5T) role and could be groomed as his eventual replacement down the road.”

Carter (6-foot-4, 285) is a bit of a positional hybrid, as he can line up at the 3T, 4i, 5T, and even as a strong side 4-3 defensive end. Some teams will want to keep him as a base end, but the Lions would likely use him on the interior (4i/5T) as his burst and change of directions skills are limited on the EDGE.

Paschal (6-foot-3, 280) is another hybrid defensive lineman. He has seen time all over Kentucky’s front, spending most between the EDGE and 3T. Quicker and more powerful than Carter, he can spend some time improving his technique. Like Carter, the lack of bend and change of direction makes him an IDL with the Lions, though 4-3 teams may explore him as a base end.

Ridgeway and Farrell are the team’s nose tackles, each checking in at over 320 pounds. The most noticeable difference is Ridgeway is 6-foot-5 and will remind some of Harrison Phillips, while Farrell is 6-foot-2, which is close to Alim McNeill’s body type.

EDGE rushers

  • Jermaine Johnson II, Florida State
  • Cameron Thomas, San Diego State
  • Kingsley Enagbare, South Carolina
  • Amare Barno, Virginia Tech
  • DeAngelo Malone, Western Kentucky
  • Michael Clemons, Texas A&M

Johnson (6-foot-5, 255), Thomas (6-foot-5, 270), and Engabre (6-foot-4, 260) are a formidable trio of edge rushers and each could make the case they are the best EDGE in Mobile.

Johnson, a transfer from Georgia, is a stout run defender/edge setter with a developing pass rush game that relies on length and motor. Add in his high football IQ and there are a lot of traits that would appeal to the Lions if they don’t take an EDGE defender with the No. 2 pick.

Thomas is a converted defensive tackle who has dominated from his defensive end spot in Brady Hoke’s 4-3 scheme at SDSU. There’s a lot to like about his balanced game. He is smart, plays with outstanding effort, has a terrific first step, an arsenal of pass-rushing moves, is stout on the edge, and really doesn’t have many flaws to his game. The only complaint is his level of opponent, but he did what great prospects to against lower level competition—he dominated.

I profiled Enagbare earlier in the offseason and has this to say:

Enagbare has great speed to power, but he wins by chasing down the ball carrier with his non-stop motor, as opposed to being a quick-twitch athlete. He has the size and length NFL teams covet, and his pass-rushing toolbox is increasing, which points to him not yet reaching his development ceiling. While most of his snaps come with his hand in the dirt, Enagbare has experience standing up and dropping into coverage, which will appeal to the Lions.

Barno is a converted linebacker who pushed down to the edge and is capable of playing as a stand-up edge or as a hand-in-the-dirt defender. He seems best suited for an EDGE role similar to what the Lions defense offers, but at this stage, he is a situational pass rusher only, as he develops his run defense/edge setting.

Malone is another hybrid defender who excels as a pass rusher but needs time to develop his skill against the run. He is more of a finesse player right now, using his length to keep separated, and seems best suited for a standup 3-4 LB edge role.

Clemons, like the other edge players on this roster, is a high-effort player who has a great first step. Like Barno and Malone, he is more pass rusher at this stage of his development, but it doesn’t come as naturally for him, as most of his production is because of his hustle.

Linebackers

  • JoJo Domann, Nebraska
  • Damone Clark, LSU
  • Quay Walker, Georgia
  • Channing Tindall, Georgia
  • D’Marco Jackson, Appalachian State
  • Aaron Hansford, Texas A&M
  • Jeremiah Moon, Florida

The Lions linebacker group doesn’t feature the elite players in this draft class, but instead, consists of high upside players who have one main thing in common: Speed. Additionally, the top three excel in coverage, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence they all ended up on the Lions roster. While I expect the Georgia linebackers to start—as National Champs they’ll probably get that recognition—but come draft time, they may not be the first players selected from this group.

Domann, a former safety, is going to be in the conversation for the title of the best cover linebacker in this class. At 6-foot-1, 230 pounds, he is very much a modern-day linebacker. He can run sideline-to-sideline, cover the slot, man up a running back or tight end, and comfortably drop into zone, shutting it down. He is an efficient tackler, gives maximum effort, and will be a core special teams player. What he lacks is bulk and the ability to get off blocks, which will hurt his opportunity to be a traditional linebacker on an every-down basis.

With the Lions, Domann would be a specialist hang defender who could fill multiple roles, including as a DIME backer, a variation of the third safety role, and matchup buster.

Clark moves smoother and faster than most 6-foot-3, 245-pound linebackers. He is highly intelligent, but for most of his career he was scared to make a mistake, and his game suffered, leaving him a step behind. This year a light bulb clicked on, he began to trust his instincts, and the world opened up for him. Not only did he step up as LSU’s MIKE, but by the end of the season, he expanded his responsibilities to EDGE duties, where his ability to blitz off the edge was a defensive weapon. He can cover and diagnose plays with the best of them, but he is too stiff in his hips and needs to learn how to shed blockers faster.

Walker (6-foot-4, 245) is big, fast, and aggressive. He can cover, stop the run, and shed blocks, but he can get overaggressive at times and over pursue. He is tough, plays with a non-stop motor, and could wear the green dot helmet at the next level.

Tindall (6-foot-2, 235) possesses elite speed and covers a ridiculous amount of ground. The coverage skills are there, but with only one year of starting experience, this is still a developing trait. Like most Georgia defenders, he plays aggressive and likes to mix it up as a tackler. Eye discipline is a big issue but there is hope that improves with experience.

Jackson (6-foot-1, 230) has sideline-to-sideline speed and is comfortable working in space, but like most linebackers his size, he struggles to get off blocks and he too often finds himself out of position. Keep him in space as a sub-package linebacker and on special teams.

Hansford (6-foot-2, 240) has terrific speed and is another linebacker in this group that can cover but struggles in actions that require strength, such as block shedding and consistent tackling. Like Jackson, keep him in space and in the third phase.

Moon (6-foot-5, 245) is a hybrid defender who isn’t quite an off-the-ball linebacker, yet isn’t an EDGE rusher either. He’s going to need a coaching staff that pinpoints a trait he has that they need and believe they can maximize.

Corners

  • Roger McCreary, Auburn
  • Derion Kendrick, Georgia
  • Mario Goodrich, Clemson
  • Cam Taylor-Britt, Nebraska
  • Alontae Taylor, Tennessee
  • Akayleb Evans, Missouri
  • Tariq Wollen, UTSA
  • Zyon McCollum, Sam Houston
  • Josh Thompson, Texas

McCreary (6-foot, 190 pounds) has the long speed to stay with receivers in man coverage (where the excels) and is also smooth enough to operate in zone coverage. He technically only has one year as a starter, but he operates like a veteran, easily staying in phase with receivers at multiple levels. An above-average level athlete, he is fluid in his hips, physical, and has the potential to play on the outside or in the slot. If the Lions draft McCreary, he would offer insurance at outside corner if Jeff Okudah and or Jerry Jacobs aren’t healthy, or if Ifeatu Melifonwu isn’t ready to start. If the Lions get answers from their outside corner, he could challenge AJ Parker for his starting slot role.

Kendrick (6-foot, 190) is a former five-star wide receiver who began his career at Clemson but switched to defense early in his college career. A highly talented starter, he was too often in off-field trouble while at Clemson, and he was eventually dismissed by Dabo Swinney last February. After his dismissal, Kendrick explained that in 2020, one of his children was hospitalized and he put school and football on the back burner. He admitted he didn’t properly communicate that with Swinney and took responsibility for ghosting the coach.

Kendrick arrived at Georgia with a clean slate and immediately won a starting job in fall camp. Like I said, the talent is there. With regards to the Lions, Kendrick’s best traits are his length and skills in off-man coverage—Lions’ GM Brad Holmes and Campbell gushed over both those traits when talking about Melifonwu last draft. If Kendrick checks the personality box with Campbell and staff in Mobile, he could be a value pick on Day 2.

When Kendrick departed Clemson, Goodrich (6-foot-0, 190) was the player who stepped up and earned the starting job to replace him. While he technically only has one year of starting experience, he displays several NFL-ready traits. Another long-armed, physical defensive back, Goodrich is one of the best tacklers in the class. If there is a drawback for the Lions, it’ll be that Clemson primarily runs a zone scheme, but he’ll have a chance to show off his man coverage skills at the Senior Bowl.

Taylor-Britt (6-foot, 205) drew some hefty praise from The Athletic’s Dane Brugler ($ubscription), who referred to him as a “more talented version of Amani Oruwariye when he was coming out of Penn State.” Taylor-Britt is a big, physical, and very long athlete who likes to tackle and has terrific ball skills. He is excellent in zone and has shown promise in man as Nebraska began expanding his responsibilities as a senior.

Taylor (6-foot, 195) is a former wide receiver who uses his length and physicality to find success in man coverage, while showing improvement in zone coverage as he gains experience. He is a high effort player and likes to tackle, which shows up a lot on defense but really stands out on special teams.

Evans (6-foot-2, 198) is—and stop me if you’ve heard this before—a long, physical corner who is best in zone but has developing coverage skills in man. He needs to improve his instincts and experience with a higher level of competition, but he doesn’t back away from physical play. He is also an impressively high-character individual, which will help his case with the Lions.

Wollen (6-foot-3, 205) was another corner who Brugler identified as a potential fit with the Lions, and while he noted that the UTSA product is still a ways away from contributing, he has the upside to be a player in the NFL. The Athletic’s Chris Burke added that Wollen, who is a former wide receiver, reminds him of “Quinton Dunbar — tall, long, fast, very raw at cornerback after flipping over from offense.”

McCollum (6-foot-3, 200) is a high-upside small-school playmaker. Length for days, fluid hips, and notable ball skills. His lack of high-level competition could be his biggest obstacle. I get some Bobby Price vibes here.

Thompson (6-foot-0, 191) broke his fibula in mid-November and missed the remainder of the season. A leader on Texas’ defense, he has decent speed and athleticism and is best in man coverage. He is also a consistent playmaker on special teams.

Safeties

  • DB, Tycen Anderson, Toledo
  • SS, Leon O’Neal Jr, Texas A&M
  • FS/SS, Yusuf Corker, Kentucky

Anderson (6-foot-2, 210) is a position-versatile defensive back who spent most of his career as a strong safety, but his size, speed (projected 4.4s), and length (33” arms) will have some teams looking at him as a corner. While he’s not ready to start, his range and developmental upside will be appealing. Where he will make the most noise in the NFL, though, is on special teams, as he is considered one of, if not the top non-kicker special teams player in this class. If the Lions can’t retain C.J. Moore, he projects as a similar level player.

O’Neal (6-foot, 210) was a 32-game starter at strong safety for TAMU, and he brings speed and physicality to the position. He’s another safety prospect who may struggle to start in the NFL (though he does have some upside) but could play for a decade because of his special teams’ abilities.

Corker (6-foot, 200) is a long, physical safety who may project better to the strong side in the NFL, as his tackling prowess points to him spending more time in the box. Like the other safeties on the American roster, he has limited upside beyond special teams, where he can be impactful.

Special teams

  • K, Cameron Dicker, Texas
  • P, Jake Camarda, Georgia
  • LS, Jordan Silver, Arkansas

“Dicker the kicker” holds the record for most points among kickers in Texas history (which includes NFL kickers Justin Tucker and Phil Dawson). Over his four years with the Longhorns, Dicker was 60-of-79 on field goals (76% average), though he did connect on 13-of-15 (86.7%) this past season. He also took on punting duties this past season averaging 46.8 yards per attempt.

Camarda, a four-year starter, averaged 46.7, 46.6, and 46.8 yards per punt in each of the last three seasons. Not only is he consistent with distance, but he routinely drops balls inside the 20 and registers multiple 60+ yard punts in each season, his career-long being 68 yards. He took on kickoff duties in 2020, adding another appealing option for special teams coordinators to have in their pocket.

Silver recorded a fumble recovery in 2019, a tackle in 2020, and long snaps. That’s all I got.

At-a-glance projected depth chart

Here’s a look at my projected American roster (Lions coached) depth chart:

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