The good: The Lions made signing free agent defensive end Trey Flowers a big part of their plans last offseason, and Flowers was one of the few bright spots along Detroit's defensive line in 2019. He was Detroit's highest graded player on defense by Pro Football Focus (by a wide margin), and led the team in sacks (7.0), quarterback hits (14) and hurries (41).
Flowers missed all of training camp rehabbing a shoulder injury, and admittedly was a bit rusty the first month or so of the season, but when he got to 100 percent, he was exactly the player the Lions thought they were getting when they signed him. Now Detroit needs to get a little more help around Flowers.
View photos of the Detroit Lions' defensive line from the 2019 season.
The bad: It was a down year for a number of individual players upfront, that when added up, resulted in an overall down year for the unit as a whole. Damon Harrison Sr., A’Shawn Robinson, Mike Daniels and Romeo Okwara all had less productive seasons than a year ago. According to PFF grading, Harrison and Robinson took huge plunges from their 2018 grades.
Da’Shawn Hand was expected to be a big part of the defense line, but injuries limited him to just three games. Daniels and Harrison also fought through injuries as well.
Detroit ranked 31st in the NFL in negative plays generated by the defense. A lot of that starts upfront with the push from the big guys. The Lions generated just 260 yards worth of negative plays. The 12 playoff teams averaged 411 yards worth of negative plays.
Key stat: The 28 sacks generated by the Lions' defense this season tied for 29th in the NFL. The league average was 40. Sacks are often a marriage of rush and cover, but Detroit does need to find a couple more players upfront that can be disruptors and consistently find their way to the quarterback.
Free agents: Robinson, Daniels and Darius Kilgo are unrestricted free agents. Jamie Meder is a restricted free agent.
Robinson, a former second-round pick by the Lions in 2016, has been solid over his four seasons in Detroit, but not spectacular. He's averaged 43 tackles, one sack, four passes defended and just under one forced fumble per season playing in 58 games total. It will be interesting to see what the market for him is this offseason.
Injuries have taken their toll on Daniels the last two seasons. He missed six games with the Packers last year and seven this year with the Lions. He had just 10 tackles and one sack in nine games this season, which is a far cry from the 49 tackles and five sacks he produced in 2017, when he played in 14 games in Green Bay. Daniels said he'd like to return to Detroit next season.
Draft: The Lions have the No. 3 overall pick. Selecting that high should net them an impact player, if they stay in that spot.
In terms of pure pass rushers, Ohio State's Chase Young is believed to be the cream of the crop, but that will ultimately be decided once these prospects go through the pre-draft process.
Auburn's Derrick Brown is the early top interior defender available. Brown has a terrific combination of length and quickness teams love in guys that play inside.
This isn't expected to be a loaded class for defensive linemen like we've seen in year's past, but some other names to keep in mind are: Raekwon Davis (DT, Alabama), A.J. Epenesa (DE, Iowa), Javon Kinlaw (DT, South Carolina), Marvin Wilson (DT, Florida State), Yetur Gross-Matos (DE, Penn State), Curtis Weaver (DE, Boise State) and Neville Gallimore (DT, Oklahoma).
MVP: Flowers. He led the defensive line in sacks, hits and hurries. He ranked in the top 10 among the league's defensive ends in pass rush productivity, and was No. 1 among all edge defenders in run stop percentage. Flowers' ability to set an edge and play well against the run was an underrated part of his game this season.
Most improved: Second-year lineman John Atkins played in just two games last year for Detroit and had two tackles. He was forced into a much greater role this year due to injury. He played in 12 games (six starts) and recorded 20 tackles. He had five tackles in the season finale vs. Green Bay.
Quotable: "I think just the attention to detail and just focus throughout the whole duration of the game," Flowers said of what the defense needs to do to improve. "We made plays here and there and flashed, would get third down stops and things like that, but throughout the game ultimately didn't put ourselves in position to win. I just think throughout the game that focus and intensity we got to have."