INDIANAPOLIS – The Detroit Lions and general manager Brad Holmes are in a good spot sitting at No. 6 overall to grab one of the top defensive linemen in this year's NFL Draft, if that's the direction Holmes ultimately decides to go in.
This is a terrific class of defensive linemen, especially on the edge at pass rusher. The defensive line group here at the NFL Scouting Combine is led by Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter, who is arguably the best interior defender to come out of college in the last few years, though it surfaced Wednesday he has a warrant out for his arrest and is being charged with reckless driving and racing in connection with a crash that killed a college teammate and a recruiting staff member.
Alabama edge rusher Will Anderson Jr. is arguably the top edge player, notching 58.5 tackles for loss and 34.5 sacks the last three seasons for the Tide.
Depending on how things shake up with the quarterbacks at the top of the draft, Detroit could find themselves in a position to draft Carter, Anderson or whoever they identify as the best defensive lineman on their board when they're on the clock at No. 6. Adding a difference maker upfront to pair with budding youngsters like Aidan Hutchinson, James Houston, Alim McNeill and Josh Paschal could go a long way in helping the Lions' defense become a more consistent unit moving forward.
Talking to the draft's top defensive linemen like Anderson, Tyree Wilson (Texas Tech), Myles Murphy (Clemson), Bryan Bresee (Clemson), Lukas Van Ness (Iowa) and others here at the Combine on Wednesday, there's a common belief among the group that their collective strength as a position group is the versatility they possess.
"Being at Alabama made me very versatile," said Anderson, who is grouped with the linebackers this week at the Combine. "When I dissect myself, I see myself as a very versatile player who can do just about anything."
There are some draft analysts who actually think Wilson might be the first edge rusher off the board, before Anderson, because of his size (6-6, 275) and athletic traits (86-inch wingspan). Wilson is getting over a broken foot suffered late in the season and will work out for teams at his Pro Day on March 29. When he does, he's expected to impress.
"I think there's a lot of buzz around him around the league," NFL draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said of Wilson in a conference call last week. "I think the league has it with him and Anderson a lot closer than people might think. He's got just freakish wingspan and burst and the ability to kind of use those long levers to get home. I think he is a really talented rusher. I think he is a big-time athlete."
Wilson also mentioned his versatility as his biggest asset heading into the NFL.
"I feel like I'm a different pass rusher than most," he said. "I'm not just committed to power. I feel like I can do power and speed and be effective inside and outside."
Van Ness (6-5, 275) began his Iowa career as a defensive tackle and then moved outside in 2022, where he notched 10.5 tackles for loss and 6.0 sacks last season.
"I think I have the ability to play all over the defensive line," Van Ness said. "I've played defensive tackle and this year played a little bit more defensive end. I believe I bring everything to the table in terms of playing the run and the pass. I'll play wherever a coach needs me to play."
Murphy (6-5, 275) touted his frame and versatility as his greatest assets after recording 11.0 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks for Clemson last season.
"I have film of playing from the three (technique) all the way out to a wide 9, 2-point, 3-point. Dominating in every gap, honestly," he said. "Great off the ball, great speed off the ball. Great point of attack. Being 275 pounds, I have the strength to go with it."
The Lions played much better football defensively the last 10 games of the season when they went 8-2 and allowed just 20.2 points per game vs. the 32.1 points per game they allowed the first eight weeks of the season. Detroit had just 11 sacks the first two months of the season, but their 28 sacks over the last 10 weeks were the fifth most in the NFL.
The Lions need help in the secondary, especially at cornerback, and they could use some more depth at linebacker too, but Holmes and head coach Dan Campbell have had the goal since arriving in 2021 of building from the inside out and being a tough, physical football team. That starts upfront. This could be a great opportunity with a Top 10 pick to significantly boost the talent and depth along the defensive front, which will go a long way in making the defense a better unit overall.