2014 Combine Preview: Defensive end

Posted Feb 18, 2014

It appears the Lions hit a home run with the selection of Ziggy Ansah in last year's draft, while fourth-round pick Devin Taylor has shown to be a solid choice as well. Do the Lions go to the well one more time in 2014?

The NFL Scouting Combine kicks off in a couple days in Indianapolis and it'll give teams like the Detroit Lions a chance to get real measurables and medical reports on the more than 300 prospects expected to take part.

It's an opportunity for teams to get a lot of information for their draft boards and start to put names with needs.

We’ve already taken a look at the wide receiver, cornerback, safety and linebacker positions. In the days leading up to the Combine we'll continue to take a look at some of the Lions' biggest needs this offseason, what prospects could fill those spots and what questions need to be answered in Indianapolis this week.

Why do the Lions need another defensive end?

How big a need this is for the Lions in 2014 depends on a few factors.

Devin TaylorDE Devin Taylor (Photo: AP Images)

1. How will Jason Jones come back from a major knee injury suffered this past season?

2. What’s the future of free agent Willie Young?

3. Is 2013 fourth-round pick Devin Taylor ready for prime time?

The answers to those questions will vary how big of a need the position is for the Lions this spring.

Let’s start with Jones. The Lions acquired him on the first day of free agency to be a versatile starting defensive end. Jones dealt with knee issues early on his Lions tenure and then ruptured his patellar tendon the third week of the season and was lost for the year.

Jones was scheduled to start running in February and says his recovery is going well. He should be ready to go by training camp, but there’s always concern for players coming off major knee surgery.

Young played well in Jones’ absence. He got an opportunity for real playing time this past year and finished with 47 tackles and three sacks.

Is he a player who can give a team 10-plus sacks in a season? The front office's answer to that question will probably go a long way in deciding if they offer Young a contract.

Taylor was drafted in the fourth round last year with the idea that he’d be a little raw. He had played a lot of football in the SEC, but was still learning to play with his large frame and how to use his hands and leverage to his advantage.

Taylor made the most of his opportunities in a backup role as a rookie. He had 2.5 sacks and forced two fumbles in limited work. He’s going to be a much bigger factor for the Lions in 2014.

With Ziggy Ansah, Jones and Taylor, the Lions appear to have a solid top three. There’s certainly room for another player to add to that rotation, though.

Where does the roster stand?

It appears Martin Mayhew and Co. hit a home run with Ansah. He led all rookies with eight sacks this past season and is only going to get better. He’s athletic, good against the run and looks like he can be a double-digit sack guy starting in 2014.

Jones and Taylor are under contract and give the Lions a big and athletic top three at the position.

Young is an unrestricted free agent and the Lions will have to decide if the former 2010 seventh-round pick is in their future plans.

Veteran Israel Idonije is also a free agent and unlikely to be in the long-term plans for the Lions.

Who could fit in the draft?

Jadeveon Clowney is the best defensive end available and could end up being the best overall player available when it’s all said and done. It’s very unlikely he’ll be around for the Lions to take at No. 10.

Imagine for a moment what the Lions defensive front would look like with Ansah and Clowney (6-7, 270), the two most athletic ends over the last two drafts, coming off the edge and meeting at the quarterback.

Back to reality.

Most analysts consider Notre Dame’s Stephon Tuitt (6-6, 303) the next best available defensive end after Clowney. Tuitt was productive for the Irish and could potentially play all four spots along the line at the next level.

Close to Tuitt, and a step under Clowney, is Missouri’s Kony Ealy (6-5, 275), who had eight sacks and 14 tackles-for-loss in 2013. He has a long frame and is still learning the position. He’s raw, but physically gifted.

Clowney would probably be the only players at the position in play for the Lions at No. 10.  Tuitt and Ealy could get into the conversation with a good Combine.

That’s not to say the Lions couldn’t potentially get an impact player at the position on Day 2 or 3. Some of those names could include: Auburn’s Dee Ford (6-2, 243), Oregon State’s Scott Crichton (6-3, 260), Boise State’s DeMarcus Lawrence (6-3, 244), Stanford’s Trent Murphy (6-5, 252), Florida’s Dominique Easley (6-2, 284) and North Carolina’s Kareem Martin (6-5, 272).

What do the Lions want to learn from the position in Indianapolis?

  • The Lions should be ecstatic they came away with Ansah at last year’s draft. Outside of Clowney, there doesn’t seem to be another player of his rare athletic talent. Will one emerge at the Combine?
  • Detroit wanted to get bigger and more athletic at the position last offseason. Is that still the plan or is there room for a speed rusher in Teryl Austin’s scheme?
  • Is there a player in Indianapolis who could challenge Jones or Taylor for playing time? If not, it’s better to add depth later on and look to get immediate impact elsewhere.