Lions' 2024 Roster Bubble: Interior Defensive Line

Which Lions defensive linemen could be on roster bubble?
Detroit Lions defensive tackle Chris Smith walks off the field after practice during training camp at the Detroit Lions Headquarters and Training Facility in Allen Park on Sunday, July 23, 2023.
Detroit Lions defensive tackle Chris Smith walks off the field after practice during training camp at the Detroit Lions Headquarters and Training Facility in Allen Park on Sunday, July 23, 2023. / Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK
In this story:

The Detroit Lions defensive line has intriguing pieces heading into the 2024 NFL season.

General manager Brad Holmes added multiple pieces to a group that helped the defense be one of the best in the league against the run in 2023. At one point, the Lions had the league's best run defense and the unit wound up finishing second in the NFL in this area.

With the addition of free agent DJ Reader and sixth-round pick Mekhi Wingo, the unit may make a claim at the top spot in 2024.

Reader will help Detroit's defense in a number of ways. For starters, he will occupy the middle of the line and help to free up Alim McNeill. Additionally, he has legitimate juice as a pass-rusher and can impact the game in that area.

McNeill had a strong 2023 season and could take an even bigger leap in the final year of his rookie contract. The N.C. State product may have had a claim at a Pro Bowl spot had he not suffered an injury late in the regular season.

Now, with Reader set to occupy the middle and opposing teams also targeting Aidan Hutchinson, the Lions can find an area that best suits McNeill's skill-set.

Wingo offers depth behind McNeill, along with Levi Onwuzurike. The latter, a Washington product, has the chance to prove his abilities after injuries kept him out all of 2022 and he struggled to find a consistent role last year.

Detroit has also begun to experiment with a 'big end,' in utilizing a defensive tackle on the outside of the defensive line. This would help the run-stopping effort, and Dan Campbell said that both Wingo and Onwuzurike have been able to showcase some versatility in that area.

Behind Reader at the nose tackle position, second-year defender Brodric Martin could play a bigger role. After being a healthy scratch for most of last season, he appears to be on the developmental track to contribute in 2024.

Roster bubble

Onwuzurike should be safe heading into the final year of his rookie deal, but he could slip if other options up front show reliability.

One such threat is Kyle Peko, a veteran defensive lineman who has played for the Broncos, Bills, Raiders and Titans. In eight NFL seasons, the defender has logged 56 tackles in 42 games played.

Peko was not a participant in the team's minicamp workouts, so it remains to be seen what impact he can have on the unit. He has ties to new Lions' defensive line coach Terrell Williams, so that could help him get a leg up on the competition.

There's also Chris Smith, who had his moments as an undrafted free agent during training camp last season. The Lions retained him on a futures contract and are set to get another look at what he can offer this time around.


Published |Modified
Christian Booher

CHRISTIAN BOOHER

Sports journalist who has covered the Detroit Lions the past three NFL seasons. Christian brings expert analysis, insights and an ability to fairly assess how the team is performing in a tough NFC North division.