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Burning Question: How Will Lions Benefit from EDGE Depth?

Detroit Lions have solid depth at the edge rusher position. How can the team take advantage in 2022?

With the Detroit Lions currently having an influx of talent at the defensive end position, there are some questions as to how the lineup will shake out on the field in 2022. Add in the fact that the Lions are transitioning to a more attacking four-man front, and it gives the team's EDGE defenders even more ambiguity. 

Now, acquiring talent is a great problem to have. But, at the same time, someone is bound to be the odd man out. 

Let's take a look now at the present projected pecking order.

First things first, this year’s second overall pick, Aidan Hutchinson, will obviously see his fair share of the snaps early on. As Pro Football Focus’ top-graded FBS defender in 2021, the local product is about as well-rounded as they come. Not only can he get to the passer, as demonstrated by the fact that he recorded the most pressures among Power-Five players last year, but he also excels against the run. 

Additionally, it’s no secret that the Lions struggled mightily in stopping the run in head coach Dan Campbell’s inaugural season in Motown.

“Obviously, he can play on the edge, all right. He’s big enough to go inside on third down and play as a three-technique,” Detroit defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said, after Hutchinson was drafted. “And, when we’re looking at this guy, the first thing I try to do with each player is, ‘Man, where can I play this player and how can we get this best out of this player, and how can we make this player successful?’ And, those are some of the things that we thought about, man. He’s a tough, aggressive, violent type of guy that we need. Obviously, we can do a lot of things with this player. So again, we’re excited to have him.”


Speaking of run defense, it is a specialty of second-round pick Josh Paschal, as well. The 270-pound lineman lived in the backfield while at Kentucky. His 48 defensive stops on runs since 2020 is the most among Power-Five EDGE defenders. 

While Paschal’s skill set provides versatility, rushing the passer is not exactly an elite trait he possesses. His 16.3 percent pass-rush win rate in 2021 was good, but not great, either. 

Playing to a player's strengths, it’s easy to imagine Paschal suiting up at EDGE on rushing downs and rotating along the line in passing situations.

One of the biggest wildcards of the upcoming season is the hopeful return of Romeo Okwara. After an Achilles' tear, you never know just how a player will come back. 

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Also important to note, Okwara has had a very hot and cold career. His 61 pressures in 2020 -- fifth-most in the NFL that year -- earned him a nice contract extension. Can he replicate that success coming off an injury, though? That’s not an easy question to answer. 

Needless to say, if healthy, the return of Okwara and his 2020 form would be a huge boost for the Lions' defense. It would be difficult to keep Okwara off the field on passing downs, despite the injection of young talent.

Another player who earned a new contract after a career year, Charles Harris, showed he can be a spot starter when needed. 

With his additional playing time in 2021, he collected a 17.5 pass-run win rate, good enough for 15th best in the NFL for EDGEs with at least 200 snaps rushing the passer.

Likely to go back to more of a depth role, Harris can continue to be a solid contributor, but not necessarily needed to be the main guy, like he was most of last season. Harris still might be trying to shed his “bust” label. But, as a reserve, he is a solid option at a position with plenty of rotation.

That leaves a couple of hybrid-type defensive ends fighting for snaps and even a roster spot. Younger players like Julian Okwara, Austin Bryant, and maybe even James Houston, who looks more in line to play as an off-ball linebacker, will have an uphill battle.

The athletic and younger Okwara has definitely shown the most upside rushing the passer, and should have a leg-up on the competition. Still, he leaves a lot to be desired against the run. However, a pass-rush specialist is still valuable in the NFL. 

Depending on special teams contributions and versatility, it’s very possible that the Lions will have to make a difficult decision when it comes to 53-man cutdowns. Showing out in training camp and the preseason will be ultra important for remaining roster spots.

At the end of the day, the Lions feature a unique blend of talent on the edge. Each individual has his own strengths and weaknesses. There will likely be a heavy rotation depending on the situation.

In a league that is predicated upon the strength of one's passing game, EDGE defenders who can get to the quarterback are paramount. Maybe for the first time in a long time, the Lions have a credible unit on the edge.