2020 position breakdown: Defensive line

The good: Lions defensive end Romeo Okwara picked a good season to have a career year.

He ranked 10th in the NFL with 10.0 sacks, which tied as the fifth most a defensive end produced this season. Okwara also led the Lions in quarterback pressures, hits and tackles for loss. He was one of only two defensive ends in the league this year (Myles Garrett) to post at least 10.0 sacks, 10.0 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.

The Lions traded for veteran defensive end Everson Griffen midseason, and he brought a spark to Detroit's pass rush, recording 3.5 sacks the second half of the season.

The bad: Detroit was historically bad on defense in 2020, and the defensive line has to own its share of the blame. Defensive end Trey Flowers battled injury and only played in seven games.

The Lions finished 28th defending the run, allowing on average 134.9 yards per game on the ground. Detroit allowed the most rushing touchdowns (27) by any defense in the league this year, and they were 0-3 when an opponent had a 100-yard rusher. Detroit allowed at least 149 rushing yards in five contests this season.

Detroit's 101 total pressures (hurries, knockdowns & sacks) ranked last in the NFL.

Coaches and players say all the time that pass defense is a marriage of rush and cover. Outside of Okwara, Detroit's defensive front didn't provide enough of the rush to consistently affect opposing passers.

Key stat: Detroit's 24 sacks on the season tied for 26th with New England. Only Minnesota (23), Las Vegas (21), Tennessee (19), Jacksonville (18) and Cincinnati (17) had fewer.

Free agents: Okwara is the big one. He's expected to get a significant pay increase in free agency after the season he had, and there's likely to be interest across the league. Okwara's recorded at least 7.5 sacks in two of his last three seasons. He works hard on and off the field, and is coming into his own in this league. He's a player the Lions could certainly look to re-sign this offseason.

Griffen is also a free agent. He told reporters after the season that he's not interested in being part of a complete rebuild at this point in his career, so he'll be watching closely this offseason to see how the new regime approaches the 2021 season.

Draft: There's isn't a slam dunk pass rushing prospect like Garrett or Chase Young in this draft, but teams can find some help in this class.

Michigan's Kwity Paye, Miami's Gregory Rousseau, Georgia's Azeez Ojulari and Washington's Joe Tryon can get after the quarterback on the edge. 

Alabama's Christian Barmore, fresh off a five tackle, two tackle for loss and one sack performance in the National Championship Game Monday, is terrific on the interior with a good combination of power, speed and suddenness. Iowa's Daviyon Nixon is another interior defender to watch in the pre-draft process.

MVP: Easy call here for Okwara, who was by far Detroit's most productive and consistent performer on defense in 2020.

Quotable: "Romeo is a guy who, man, works hard," Flowers said of his defensive line mate. "He's already got the athletic natural talent, and it's a testament to what he did this year. Probably you all didn't see much of it, as far as after practice things he's done. He's a hard worker, he's focused.

"I think the difference I saw this year was his keen focus on his craft, and how we kind of able was able to hone that natural athletic ability into precision, eliminating false steps, and to making him this much quicker at it. I think that allowed him to be more confident to go out there and do what he did this year – have a great year."

Advertising