TWENTYMAN: Breaking down Lions' free-agent signings

Right after the 2016 season concluded for the Detroit Lions, general manager Bob Quinn explained what his approach to free agency would be.

“I believe in building the team through the draft and then you supplement through free agency,” he said.

“We’ve looked at a lot of the free agents, I’ve looked at a number of them myself. If we feel there’s a good fit there we’ll go ahead and do that.”

The Lions have filled a number of positions of need with both starters and depth in the first couple weeks of free agency.

Here’s a recap of what the Lions have done in free agency and how each player might fit in Detroit:

RICK WAGNER

Position: Right tackle

2016 stats (in Baltimore): Started 15 games and allowed just two sacks. Rated the eighth-best right tackle in football last year by Pro Football Focus.

How he fits: After starting the last three years at right tackle in Baltimore, Wagner will slot into that role in Detroit and should provide the Lions an upgrade there both as a pass blocker and run blocker.

Quotable: “I grew up in the Midwest and I grew up watching the Lions my whole life,” Wagner said. “Just the way this city is blue collar and it really kind of connects to me.”

T.J. LANG

Position: Guard

2016 stats (in Green Bay): Lang didn’t allow a single sack or quarterback hit in 13 games last season. He was a Pro Bowler in 2016 and the sixth highest graded right guard in football by Pro Football Focus.

How he fits: He steps right into the starting lineup at right guard next to Wagner and fills the void left by Larry Warford’s departure in free agency (New Orleans). Lang is still recovering from an offseason hip injury, and won’t be ready to return to the field until training camp, but he’s an eight-year vet and it shouldn’t take him long to assimilate himself with his new environment and new teammates.

Quotable: “I’ll definitely be ready by training camp,” Lang said of his injury. “No doubt about it. I know that was a big story the past couple weeks, but it’s nothing but a positive.

“This is something that I’ve been dealing with for a number of years. Has always caused me a pretty good amount of pain at some point in the season, so it’s really been three or four seasons since I came into training camp 100 percent healthy and I really feel like that’s where I’m going to be this year.”

PAUL WORRILOW

Position: Linebacker

2016 stats (in Atlanta): 12 games (one start), 21 tackles, one tackle for loss, two passes defended, two fumble recoveries

How he fits: Worrilow was a three-year starter in Atlanta before losing his job to dynamic rookie Deion Jones last season. Worrilow recorded at least 100 tackles and two sacks in each of his first two seasons in the league in 2013 and 2104. He had 95 tackles and two interceptions in 2015. The Lions have a big need at linebacker after the release of DeAndre Levy. Worrilow should compete for a starting spot at either the MIKE or WILL.

Quotable: “I’m so dialed in and so pumped up to be a Lion,” Worrilow said. “That’s all I can think about right now.”

D.J. HAYDEN

Position: Cornerback

2016 stats (in Oakland): 11 games (two starts), 21 tackles, two tackles for loss, six passes defended, one forced fumble

How he fits: Hayden played primarily on the outside his first three seasons in Oakland, but was needed inside in the slot last year and played well there. That gives him some flexibility in Detroit and the opportunity to challenge both Nevin Lawson or Quandre Diggs for a starting spot. At the very least, Hayden adds veteran depth at both spots.

Quotable: “I’m going to be wherever I’m needed,” Hayden said. “I’m just ready to work. As a football player, I feel like I can do whatever it is the team needs, whether it’s inside, outside, safety or whatever. It really doesn’t even matter. I’ll just adjust accordingly.”

AKEEM SPENCE

Position: Defensive tackle

2016 stats (in Tampa Bay): 16 games (four starts), 19 tackles, half sack, three QB hits, two tackles for loss

How he fits: The Lions return both starters from last year, Haloti Ngata and A’Shawn Robinson, but lost most of their depth behind those two to free agency. Spence has started 30 games the last four years and brings terrific experience to the position.

Quotable: “I chose the Lions because they fit my style of defense,” Spence said. “The way they attack, get up field and it’s definitely a place I wanted to get to.

“Coach Kris (Kocurek) is a high energy guy, just like one of my coaches I had in Tampa Bay, Joe Cullen, high energy guy, loves his players, wants guys to work hard and build that camaraderie here and that’s something I felt like I wanted to be a part of.”

CORNELIUS WASHINGTON

Position: Defensive end

2016 stats (in Chicago): 15 games (two starts), 14 tackles, two sacks, four QB hits, two tackles for loss

How he fits: Like Spence, Washington is a four-year veteran with experience. Teams can never have too many pass rushers, and Washington has the flexibility to play outside on first and second down and then slide inside and still be a passing threat on third down.

Quotable: “I know how they run their defense,” Washington said of Detroit. “I just felt like it was a good place, a good fit for me – someplace I could come in and have real good production.

“Their 4-3 scheme, it’s blow and go. We play the run on the way to the pass. That’s what I like about it. It’s straight ahead. It’s all go. No slowdown.”

DARREN FELLS

Position: Tight end

View photos of tight end Darren Fells.

2016 stats (in Arizona): 14 games (seven starts), 14 catches, 154 yards, one touchdown. Rated the No. 3 pass blocking tight end in football last season by Pro Football Focus.

How he fits: It's obvious the Lions entered free agency with the hope of upgrading both their pass protection and run blocking, and Fells does both on the edge. He should also allow the Lions to run more two tight end sets with him and Eric Ebron, if offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter so chooses. 

Quotable: “I’m such a good blocker, mostly because that’s the stereotype that basketball players can’t block,” Fells said. “I put a lot of emphasis on that.

“I like to believe that I’m a very physical player. The first (basketball) game overseas, I fouled out with all offensive fouls. They called charges. I guess that showed a little bit of physicalness.”

JORDAN HILL

Position: Defensive tackle

2016 stats (in Jacksonville): 4 games, no recorded stats

How he fits: Again, the Lions need depth at the defensive tackle position. Hill recorded 15 tackles and 5.5 sacks in Seattle in 2014, but hasn’t been nearly that productive the last two seasons. He’ll get an opportunity to make the 53-man roster and provide depth at the position in 2017.

KESHAWN MARTIN

Position: Receiver/kick returner

2016 stats (in San Francisco): 1 game, two kick returns for an 18.5 average

How he fits: Andre Roberts was Detroit’s primary return man and fourth receiver last year, and he left in free agency to sign with Atlanta. That means the Lions have an opening for a return man and backup receiver.

KHYRI THORNTON

Position: Defensive tackle

View photos of defensive tackle Khyri Thornton.

2016 stats (in Detroit): 13 games (six starts), 14 tackles, one sack, two QB hits, two tackles for loss, one forced fumble

How he fits: Thornton proved to be a stout force, especially against the run, as a part-time starter and rotational man in the middle of the Lions defensive line last year. He knows the scheme and what's expected of him, and provides nice depth behind Ngata and Robinson.

ARMONTY BRYANT

Position: Defensive end

2016 stats (in Detroit): 5 games, four tackles, three sacks, three QB hits, three tackles for loss, one forced fumble

How he fits: The Lions claimed Bryant off waivers from the Cleveland Browns early last season. He finished third on the team in sacks despite missing time with two suspensions and a knee injury. He produced three sacks in five games and really seemed to fit Teryl Austin's attacking scheme. He could compete for a starting spot opposite Ziggy Ansah.

DON MUHLBACH

Position: Long snapper

2016 stats: The Lions' special teams unit was ranked the second best in the NFL in Rick Gosselin’s special teams rankings.

How he fits: Death. Taxes. Don Muhlbach. He was steady as they come snapping the football last season and returns for a 14th year in 2017. He will once again have to compete with Jimmy Landes for a spot on the 53-man roster.

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