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Senior Bowl to feature plenty of defensive playmakers

MOBILE, Ala. – Lions GM Bob Quinn said after the season his roster "has a long ways to go" to be one that can compete for a Super Bowl title.

The Lions could use upgrades at a number of spots, including all three levels of their defense. There is a particular need in Detroit for more playmakers on the defensive side of the ball -- players who can get to the quarterback, force turnovers, get their hands on footballs and generate those big plays the Lions lacked during crucial stretches this past season.

Detroit's defense didn't force a single turnover in their last five contests down the stretch. They were 1-4 over that span, and lost the turnover battle 7-0.

Detroit's total takeaways in 2016 totaled 14, which ranked 28th in the league. Their 26 sacks ranked 30th, the 10 interceptions they collected were 23rd and the four fumble recoveries were the 29th lowest total in the NFL this past season.

The Lions could use a few more difference makers on defense, and this year's Senior Bowl could provide a nice first-look on some of those types of players for Quinn and his staff.

Clemson defensive tackle Carlos Watkins' 10.5 sacks this past season were the most by an interior defensive lineman in school history, and helped propel the Tigers to the National Championship.

"That's just something I wanted to work on this year, my pass rush," Watkins said after Tuesday's South Team practice. "Coaches really emphasized one-on-one, so, I really took that to heart. If a man beats you one-on-one, you kind of failed, so, I kind of took that personally.

"In Clemson we were more of a gap control team, so I'm just really (now) working on getting vertical and pushing the line of scrimmage."

That two-gap scheme is similar to what Lions second-round pick A'Shawn Robinson ran at Alabama before he moved to Teryl Austin's scheme and flourished under the one-gap, attacking scheme.

Michigan defensive end Chris Wormley (6-5, 297) has the build and athleticism to play both outside and inside, and should hear his name come off draft boards within the first two days of the draft. He's recorded 22 tackles for loss and 12 sacks the last two seasons for the Wolverines.

Alabama linebacker Ryan Anderson is expected to play in a number of different spots during practices this week to try and show off his versatility. He recorded a robust 18.5 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, three pass breakups and one interception that he returned for a touchdown this past season. That's an impact.

"I feel like I'm a disciplined player," Anderson said. "Most of my plays come when I'm being disciplined or extra effort stuff, running the ball down or chasing it down the backside.

"I'm most comfortable on the edge, but I can play inside. I can play anything they want me to play."

Cornerbacks Tre'Davious White (LSU), Jourdan Lewis (Michigan) and Desmond King (Iowa) are in Mobile representing a very deep cornerback draft class in 2017. There were 30 passes defended, seven interceptions and two touchdowns between that trio this season.

Opponents completed just 36 percent of their passes on Lewis over the last three seasons, and he played the most press coverage of any cornerback in the country over that span, according to Pro Football Focus stats.

King also doubles as one of the best kick return men in the country.

Opposing quarterbacks had a passer rating under 50.0 when throwing at either White, Lewis or King this past season.

"I'm a complete player," said White. "On the field and off the field. The way I get in and out of my breaks, the way I read route combinations, the way that I take the ball and just my versatility."

Lewis said after practice that the biggest thing he was working on as he prepares for the NFL is getting his hands on more footballs and collecting more of the impact plays coaches love.

There's still a long ways to go before Quinn and his staff determine if any of these players could be a fit in Detroit, but the production stands out. The ability to make game-changing plays makes all of these prospects ones to watch throughout the draft process.

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