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O'HARA'S 2018 DRAFT PREVIEW: Defensive Line

There is help available in the draft for the Detroit Lions' defense right where head coach Matt Patricia likes to have it -- in the middle.

The strength up front this year is on the interior, with at least four tackles with legitimate first-round talent.

When Patricia spoke to the Detroit media at the Combine earlier this year, he said building the defense is an inside job.

View photos of NFL Media draft analyst Mike Mayock's top five defensive ends and defensive tackles in the 2018 NFL Draft.

"This is really both sides of the ball – you want to build from the ball out," Patricia said. "Start in the middle and work out. You always want to be strong in the middle of your defense. Anybody who plays through the core – whether it's linebackers of safeties – those guys are critically important to what you're trying to do."

A lot of options are available for the Lions with the 20th pick in the first round, and a pass rusher is not out of the question if they decide to go for defense.

Here is a look at where the Lions stand at defensive line going into the draft, the top five prospects at tackle and end and others available at the positions, and the spotlight on Bradley Chubb:

Defensive line draft priority: One of the top two needs along with running back, and it could be a pass rusher or an interior defender.

Stat to note: The Lions ranked 20th in the league with 35 sacks, led by Ziggy Ansah with 12.

Returning players:

Starters – DE Ziggy Ansah, DE Anthony Zettel, DT A'Shawn Robinson, DT Akeem Spence, DE Kerry Hyder Jr. (IR all of 2017).

Rotation – DE Jeremiah Valoaga, DE Cornelius Washington, DE Alex Barrett (practice squad); DT Jeremiah Ledbetter, DT Christian Ringo.

Additions: DT Sylvester Williams, unrestricted free agent; futures contracts DE Cam Johnson, DT Toby Johnson (practice squad Dec. 30).

GM Bob Quinn's defensive line draft record: He said before his first draft in 2016 that games are won in the trenches, and he backed it up by drafting Robinson in the second round and Zettel in the sixth. In 2017 he drafted Ledbetter in the sixth round and Pat O'Connor in the seventh. Only O'Connor failed to make the roster.

Top 5 defensive tackles:

1. Vita Vea, Washington: He drew comparisons to Haloti Ngata at the Combine with 41 reps of 225 pounds and a 5.10 time in the 40  – at 347 pounds. 

Bio/stats: A three-year player after a red-shirt season in 2013, Vea is regarded more highly than indicated by his career stats – 9.5 sacks and 15 tackles for loss in 40 games.

2. Da'Ron Payne, Alabama: At 6-2 and 311 pounds he can defend the run and penetrate with quickness -- as shown by his 4.91 time in the 40 and an impressive 1.67 for the first 10 yards. His work in the weight room is well known, and it makes him a solid run defender.

Bio/stats: Like a lot of defensive linemen at Alabama, he had to wait his turn to become a starter. As a third-year player in 2017, Payne had 53 tackles, with 45 of them coming against the run. In Alabama's win over Clemson in the national championship semifinal, Payne had an interception and a TD catch.

3. Maurice Hurst, Michigan: He did not participate in the Combine when a physical exam showed a possible heart ailment. Cleared to perform at Michigan's Pro Day, he was solid if not spectacular -- 4.97 in the 40, 29 reps in the bench press and a 31-inch vertical jump.

Bio/stats: Versatility adds to his value. He can play on the interior and move outside. A four-year letterman at Michigan but a full-time starter only in 2017, Hurst had 14 sacks and 31 tackles for loss his last three seasons.

4. Taven Bryan, Florida: In an interview before the start of the 2017 season, Florida head coach Jim McElwain called Bryan "arguably the best athlete on our team." At 6-5 and 291 pounds, Bryan ran the 40 in 4.98 seconds at the Combine, had 30 reps in the bench press and a vertical jump of 35 inches.

Bio/stats: The son of a Navy SEAL, Bryan grew up in Wyoming and played offensive line in high school. He wanted to play defensive line, and Florida gave him that opportunity in its recruiting pitch. He set career highs with six tackles for loss and four sacks in 2017.

5. Harrison Phillips, Stanford: Recruited to Palo Alto out of Nebraska – two places with so much in common -- Phillips made a mark with his hustle and strength. Phillips benched 225 pounds 42 times at the Combine. His play on the field showed that he wasn't only a workout warrior.

Bio/stats: In 2016 Phillips had 9.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks playing alongside Solomon Thomas, drafted third overall in 2017 by the 49ers. Phillips stepped it up in 2017, recording 103 tackles with 17 for loss and 7.5 sacks. He added two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and a blocked kick.

Others: Tim Settle, Virginia Tech.; Nathan Shepherd, Fort Hays State; Derrick Nnadi, Florida State; R.J. McIntosh, Miami (Fla.); Foley Fatukasi, Connecticut; B.J. Hill, North Carolina State; Kendrick Norton, Miami (Fla.); Trenton Thompson, Georgia; Deadrin Senat, South Florida; Andrew Brown, Virginia.

Top 5 defensive ends

1. Bradley Chubb, North Carolina State: For the second straight year, the best player in the draft could be a pass-rushing defensive end. Last year it was Myles Garrett, taken first overall by the Browns. This year it's Chubb. If the Browns draft a QB with the first pick overall, they're likely to take Chubb if he's still on the board at No. 4 to help Garrett harass opposing QBs.

Bio/stats: A three-year player, Chubb started out at linebacker and moved to defensive end as a sophomore in 2016. He played the left and right sides and wreaked havoc at both – 22 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks in 2016, 26 tackles for loss and 10 sacks in 2017.

View photos of NFL prospect Marcus Davenport.

2. Marcus Davenport, Texas-San Antonio: At 6-6 and 264 pounds, Davenport is a remarkable athlete who was on an upward trend throughout his four years at UTSA. He was timed in 4.58 seconds in the 40 at the Combine, with a 10-yard split of 1.63, among the fastest for all defensive linemen.

Bio/stats: Davenport starred in basketball, football and track in high school. As a junior in 2017 he had 10 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks and improved to 17.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks to be voted Conference USA defensive player of the year. He's still raw, but the tools are there to develop what might be the next DeMarcus Ware.

3. Sam Hubbard, Ohio State: Hubbard is one of three OSU linemen (Tyquan Lewis and Jalyn Holmes) in the 2018 draft who were on the four-man "Rushmen" unit used in pass-rush situations in 2017.

Bio/stats: A safety in football and lacrosse player in high school, Hubbard converted to linebacker and then defensive end at Ohio State. A three-year player after a 2014 red-shirt freshman season, he had his best year in 2017 – 13 tackles for loss with seven sacks.

4. Rasheem Green, Southern Cal: An ascending prospect who might jump into the bottom of the first round as teams reach for a pass rusher. Green was listed as a tackle by Southern Cal but is generally projected as a defensive end in the NFL.

Bio/stats: A heralded high school player in Los Angeles, Green began to make an impact as a sophomore in 2016 with six sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss. He increased those totals to 12.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss on a 2017 Southern Cal team that went 11-2 and ended its regular season with five straight wins before losing to Ohio State in the Cotton Bowl.

5. Arden Key, LSU: One of the toughest players to slot because of diversity of opinions on his value and where he might line up – outside linebacker, edge-rush specialist or defensive end. He worked with the defensive ends at the Combine – an undersized one at 6-5 and 238 pounds.

Bio/stats: Key's talents are many – size, quickness, ability to get to the quarterback – but so are the red flags. A three-year player, the 2016 season showcased him at his best – a school-record 12 sacks and a team-high 14.5 tackles for loss in 12 games. He played eight games in 2017 and had four sacks.

Others: DaShawn Hand, Alabama; Jalyn Holmes, Ohio State; Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Oklahoma; Chad Thomas, Miami (Fla.); Andrew Brown, Virginia; Duke Ejiofor, Wake Forest; John Franklin-Myer, Stephen F. Austin; Marcell Frazier, Missouri; Ade Aruna, Tulane; Tyquan Lewis, Ohio State; Zach Sieler, Ferris State; Breeland Speaks, Mississippi.

Spotlight – Bradley Chubb: He knows how highly teams value quarterbacks – which adds to the value of pass rushers.

When Chubb spoke to reporters at the Combine, he pointed to a sack of Tom Brady and forced fumble as the pivotal play in the Eagles' victory over the Patriots in Super Bowl LII.

"If a team doesn't have a quarterback, they don't really have anything," Chubb said. "My job is to get after one of the best players on the field – one of the highest paid players on the field. It changes the dynamics of the game.

"You see it in the Super Bowl – sack caused fumble, ends the game. "

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