This isn't a deep class of interior defenders up front, but there are definitely some impact players at the top of the class.
Football games are won and lost in the trenches, so teams are always on the lookout for upgrades along their defensive line.
Top 5 defensive linemen to watch at the Combine:
1. Jordan Davis, Georgia, 6-6, 340
The Outland Trophy and Chuck Bednarik Award winner, Davis is a big-bodied space eater with surprising athleticism for a player his size. He can collapse the pocket with his size and strength, but there's also some room to grow as a pass rusher. He's got the skillset to be a dominant, run-stuffing nose tackle at the NFL level.
2. Phidarian Mathis, Alabama, 6-4, 312
Mathis' strength really shows up in the run game, with the ability to stack blocks and find the ball. He recorded 53 tackles (20 solo) and 10.5 sacks this past season. He consistently pushes blockers back into the pocket, which is where a lot of his disruption in the pass game comes from (9.0 sacks in 2021). He's got a non-stop motor and should help a team right away as a Day 1 starter and solid two-gap nose or defensive tackle.
View photos of the defensive line prospects who were invited to the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine.
3. Devonte Wyatt, Georgia, 6-3, 307
Wyatt showed terrific quickness, athleticism and bend in one-on-one pass-rush drills at the Senior Bowl, making an argument that he can be a better pass rusher in the NFL than his college statistic show (2.5 sacks in 2021). He also notched 39 tackles (18 solo) and 7.0 tackles for loss for the Bulldogs this past season.
4. Neil Farrell, LSU, 6-4, 325
Farrell is a block-eating nose tackle who plays with terrific leverage and power. He showed that off consistently at the Senior Bowl last month, using his pad level and leverage to his advantage to walk back blockers into the backfield. He doesn't offer much in the way of pass rush, but those skills can be developed more at the next level.
5. DeMarvin Leal, Texas A&M, 6-4, 290
The Aggies moved Leal up and down the line, showing he's got some position versatility at the next level. He recorded 8.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss for the Aggies this past season. The one criticism that came up often from different analysts is improving his pad level. He uses quickness more than power because he sometimes plays a little too high.
Combine sleeper to watch: Perrion Winfrey, Oklahoma, 6-4, 292
Winfrey recorded 5.5 sacks and 11.0 tackles for loss in 11 games as a senior for the Sooners in 2021. He was one of the most dominant defensive tackles at the Senior Bowl last month. He won consistently in both one-on-one and team periods. He completely dominated the Wednesday practice at the Senior Bowl. He has disruptive traits NFL teams will like.
Lions need at the position: Moderate
Detroit's top three interior defenders – Michael Brockers, Alim McNeill and Levi Onwuzurike – return next season, and they've got some depth at nose tackle with John Penisini also in the rotation, but teams are always looking to add reliable interior defenders.
Veteran Nick Williams is a free agent, so there's definitely room to add to the rotation upfront for Detroit.
Lions general manager Brad Holmes said after the season he believes the offensive and defensive lines are the team's strength headed into the offseason, so it's not a huge priority for the Lions. We'll have to see what the Lions do in free agency, but if a player fits the draft slot, there's certainly the potential to add to this group, especially if Holmes identifies someone as being able to give them some more pass-rushing prowess from the interior.
Key stat: Detroit's 30 sacks in 2021 were the third lowest in the NFL. Of those 30, only 4.5 came from the defensive end or nose tackle positions in Detroit's 3-4 front.