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2022 position breakdown: Defensive line

The good: Rookie defensive linemen Aidan Hutchinson, James Houston and Josh Paschal combined for 19.5 sacks on the year shattering the team record and breaking the NFL record for most combined sacks by rookies (LB Malcolm Rodriguez also had a sack to make the Lions' rookie total 20.5).

Hutchinson will likely be a finalist for the NFL Rookie of the Year award, and Houston showed the second half of the year that his potential is off the charts. The future looks really bright on the edge with Hutchinson, Houston and Paschal joining a group of proven returning rushers like Romeo Okwara and Charles Harris.

Kudos to the pro personnel department for finding a couple veteran gems in John Cominsky and Isaiah Buggs. Both players became key leaders on defense and glue guys on the roster.

The bad: Overall, the play upfront has to be way more consistent in 2023. Detroit's defense finished 30th against the run and 29th against the pass. Opponents averaged 5.22 yards per carry on the year, and their 22 runs of 20-plus yards were the most in the league. Opponents gained 2,491 rushing yards against the Lions' defense this season, which outpaced Detroit's own rushing output of 2,179 yards.

The Lions got just 3.5 sacks from interior defenders in 2022. Lions general manager Brad Holmes could certainly be on the lookout for another defensive tackle who is strong against the run but also offers a little more pass-rush prowess this offseason. It's yet to be determined if 2021 second-round pick Levi Onwuzurike can be that guy because of a back injury that hampered him all of his rookie season and prevented him from playing at all in 2022.

View photos of the Detroit Lions defensive line from the 2022 NFL season.

Key stat: Opponents totaled 82 plays (22 runs and 60 passes) of 20-plus yards against the Lions' defense this season, which was the most in the NFL. The league average among the 14 teams that qualified for the playoffs was 59.

Free agents: DE John Cominsky (unrestricted), DT Isaiah Buggs (Unrestricted), DE Austin Bryant (unrestricted), DT Benito Jones (exclusive rights)

Cominsky will likely be a priority re-sign for Holmes. He is one of those players who can play anywhere on the line, does everything well, and makes guys around him better. He racked up 30 tackles, 4.0 sacks, five tackles for loss and 12 quarterback hits. He missed three games and played almost the entire year with a club on his hand due to a thumb injury suffered Week 2.

Buggs became a vocal leader on defense and really found a home in Detroit after starting his career in Pittsburgh. He can certainly impact a game, which was evident in Detroit's Week 18 win in Green Bay, when Buggs totaled seven tackles from the interior, including a few big stops in the red zone.

Draft: The Lions own the No. 6 and No. 18 picks in the first round, and two more picks in the second round. This is a really strong class of defensive linemen. The interior defenders are led by Georgia's Jalen Carter, who is so talented he isn't expected to make it to No. 6. Clemson's Bryan Bresee is another elite talent at defensive tackle and will also likely be a top 10 pick. Some other interior defenders to keep an eye on are Gervon Dexter (Florida), Mazi Smith (Michigan), Siaki Ika (Baylor), Calijah Kancey (Pitt) and Keondre Coburn (Texas).

The Lions have young talent and depth on the edge of their defensive line, but teams can never have too many good pass rushers. Will Anderson Jr. (Alabama), Myles Murphy (Clemson), Nolan Smith (Georgia), Isaiah Foskey (Notre Dame), Tyree Wilson (Texas Tech) and Jared Verse (Florida State) are some of the top edge rushers in a very deep class.

MVP: DL Aidan Hutchinson

Hutchinson, the No. 2 overall pick in last year's NFL Draft, had a monster rookie season. Not only did he lead the Lions and all rookies with 9.5 sacks, but he also notched 52 tackles (34 solo), nine tackles for loss, 15 quarterback hits, three interceptions and two fumble recoveries.

Hutchinson is the first rookie since 1982, when the individual sack became an official statistic, with at least nine sacks (9.5) and three interceptions (three). He was named NFL Rookie of the Month twice.

Most improved: DL/OLB James Houston

Talk about a whirlwind season for the rookie out of Jackson State. He went from being cut out of training camp to spending the first 11 weeks of the season on the practice squad to finally being elevated Week 12 and becoming the first player in NFL history to record eight sacks in his first six contests. Houston finished second among rookies behind Hutchinson with eight sacks on the year. Credit to him for improving his overall game those first 11 weeks on the practice squad to put himself in a position to make an immediate impact when called upon to play.

Quotable: "I was with the Rams when we drafted (Eagles DE) Robert Quinn, and I thought Robert Quinn probably had the most rare ability to bend around the edge," Holmes said. "Didn't know when I was going to see that but I would say that James (Houston), he's got a little bit of that ability to bend like that, and he's got a mean crossover and counter, and his arms are so long, I think that just really helps him out. So, if he just keeps working, he can be as good as he wants to be."

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