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Lions could find defenders with versatility in draft

INDIANAPOLIS – The word "multiple" has been tossed around quite a bit the last month whenever the question of what Detroit's defense will look like in 2018 comes up.

New head coach Matt Patricia describes it as the ability to be versatile from week to week, depending on the matchup. One week he might feature more 4-3 concepts. The next week may have some 3-4 looks.

It's important to keep in mind that 70 percent of defensive football these days is played in sub packages (nickel, dime, etc ...), so this is a rather small segment of Detroit's defense next year we're talking about.

But to truly be a multiple defense, you need players with a wide range of skills and versatility.

"I think in general in the game right now, in the league, with the rosters and where the sizes are, I would say everybody really needs to be multiple," Patricia said. "You know, if you're going to do one thing on a football team, it better be outstanding.

"So, in general, it's easy to kind of say, 'All right. Long snapper. He's probably outstanding at long snapping and that's the one thing he does really well,' or kicking or the quarterback position. I think the rest of it, you look at it and say, 'OK, hey, what can this guy do well and how many different positions can we put him in to execute at a high level?' Whether it's offense or defensively, so you're always evaluating that on every player."

That kind of thinking could certainly influence the kind of players the Lions look to take in next month's NFL Draft.

Take Virginia Tech's Tremaine Edmunds (6-4, 253) for example. He's an off-the-ball linebacker with terrific athletic traits, but his size could allow him to rush the edge as well.

"The NFL now, it's a different game, so a lot of teams are looking at guys who can play different positions," Edmunds said Saturday at the Combine. "I let them decide that thing. I just try to perform the best way I can, put on film the best me, so whichever way they see me playing, I'm comfortable with that. I'd adjust to it."

Boston College's Harold Landry led college football in 2016 with 16.5 sacks. At 6-foot-2 and 251 pounds, Landry doesn't have the prototypical size of a down 4-3 rush end, but that's what he did in college and has shown to be effective doing so. He's also stood up and rushed from a two-point stance, which 3-4 teams will like.

"The more you can do in this league the more valuable you are to the team," Landry said. "They definitely preach that. I think I could play 4-3 end or 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL. I think I am strong enough to play 4-3 d-end and athletic enough to play 3-4 outside linebacker."

Quandre Diggs' ability to play both nickel cornerback and safety was big for Detroit last season after starting safety Tavon Wilson was lost to injury.

Miles Killebrew has shown the ability to play safety and also be an in-the-box linebacker in the dime. That dime package has been a good one for Detroit the past couple seasons.

View photos of the defensive linemen and linebackers meeting the media at the 2018 NFL Combine.

Players who can play multiple positions make it easier to be a multiple defense. Prospects have really been trying to sell their versatility this week in Indy.

At 347 pounds, Washington defensive tackle Vita Vea is one of those guys. Vea is a monster on the interior, but he's also got quick feet and some position versatility.

"Over at Washington, you can put on the film. We played all across the line," Vea said. "It wasn't one specific position that we were assigned to. If it was a D-line job or a D-line position, we were playing it."

The ability to eat up space and double teams, and be a run stopper as a nose tackle, is a terrific asset to 3-4 teams.

But Vea seems to have the athletic ability to also slide over and play the three-technique in a 4-3. In fact, he sees a little of himself in Lions free-agent defensive tackle Haloti Ngata in that regard.

"Haloti Ngata, when he played for the Ravens, he was outstanding down there (in a 3-4)," Vea said. "Obviously, when he made that transition to Detroit, he did great over there (in a 4-3). He continued to shine."

The more a player can do, the more of an asset he is to his football team. For a defense in Detroit that plans to do more in 2018 from a scheme perspective, players with some versatility to their game could set themselves apart in the pre-draft process. 

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