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2016 Position Breakdown: Defensive line

The good: Defensive end Kerry Hyder became one of the feel-good stories for the Detroit Lions during the 2016 season.

Hyder, who spent most of the 2015 season on the practice squad, made the 53-man roster out of training camp and ended up leading the Lions in sacks this season with 8.0. That's 3.5 more than the next man on the list, defensive end Devin Taylor (4.5).

View photos of the Detroit Lions defensive linemen in 2016.

Rookie A'Shawn Robinson looks to be the real deal inside at defensive tackle. After adjusting from a two-gap scheme in college to more of an attacking defense in Detroit, Robinson, a second-round pick, earned a starting spot alongside Haloti Ngata midseason, and finished first among all NFL defensive tackles with seven pass breakups.

The bad: The Lions struggled to consistently rush the passer and stop the run through the course of the entire season.

During Detroit's four-game losing streak to end the year, the defense allowed 611 rushing yards and averaged less than two sacks per game and four quarterback hits.

There's one statistic that particularly stuck out when thinking about Detroit's defense in 2016, and that was the opposing quarterback overall passer rating of 106.5, by far the highest in the NFL. That rating was even worse for Detroit (122.7) when teams got in the red zone.

That is an overall defensive team stat, and the defensive line played their part. The front four failed to generate any kind of consistent pass rush all season. Detroit's 26 sacks were the third lowest in the league.

Starting defensive end Ziggy Ansah dealt with injuries all season long that zapped his productiveness. He had just two sacks during the regular season after leading the NFC in sacks last year with 14.5. During the playoff game in Seattle, however, he recorded two sacks and hit the quarterback five times, which is a good sign heading into next season. Ansah should come back in 2017 hungry to have a big season.

Key stat: The Lions' defense finished the season a respectable 18th against the run (106.3 ypg), but 46.8 percent of all opponent rushes gained at least four yards this season. That was the sixth-worst percentage in NFL.

Free agents: Lions general manager Bob Quinn has some decisions to make this offseason concerning his defensive line.

Defensive tackles Stefan Charles and Tyrunn Walker, two key components of the DT rotation this season, are unrestricted free agents.

Taylor, who finished second on the team with 4.5 sacks, is also an unrestricted free agent.

Defensive tackle Khyri Thornton, another rotational player on the inside for the Lions, is a restricted free agent.

In all, that's 84 tackles, 5.5 sacks and two forced fumbles worth of production up for free agency.

The Lions will also have to consider the status of Ngata, who is under contract for one more season, but turns 33 years old later this month.

Hyder and defensive end Brandon Copeland are exclusive rights free agents.

Draft: This is a stud pass rushing class, and might be the best since 2011, when Von Miller, J.J. Watt, Robert Quinn and others entered the league.

Myles Garrett (Texas A&M), Jonathan Allen (Alabama), Derek Barnett (Tennessee), Tim Williams (Alabama), Carl Lawson (Auburn), Charles Harris (Missouri), Takkarist McKinley (UCLA) and Taco Charleton (Michigan) make up a deep group of talented Top 40 talent at the position.

Malik McDowell (Michigan State), Caleb Brantley (Florida) and Chris Wormley (Michigan) head the defensive tackle class, and could immediately step in and help teams along the interior.

MVP: Hyder not only led the Lions in sacks, he also chipped in 23 tackles, a fumble recovery and a defended pass. He led Detroit with 11 tackles for loss.

Most improved: It's hard not to award this to Hyder as well. Here's a guy that kept making such a good impression on the practice squad last season that Detroit promoted him to the active roster for the last regular season game in Chicago in 2015.

Hyder lost 30 pounds making the move from defensive tackle to defensive end, and kept No. 61 throughout the entire process to remind him where he came from. He was issued that number when he came to try out simply because it was available.

Quotable: "He's an impact guy inside and outside of the locker room," head coach Jim Caldwell said of Ngata. "He's an impact guy on the field of play and in the community. You know, those guys like Haloti, he does so many things even behind the scenes that no one catches a glimpse of because he's a very, very humble individual as well.

"A great family man, but one of those guys, man, with unusual physical traits and ability. He can run, hit, he's strong, he's powerful, he's smart, he understands the game and he sets a great example for all of our young guys in that room."

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