Detroit Lions: Defensive Position-by-Position Breakdown and Depth-Chart Analysis

Brandon Alisoglu@@BrandonAlisogluCorrespondent IJuly 7, 2014

Detroit Lions: Defensive Position-by-Position Breakdown and Depth-Chart Analysis

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    The Detroit Lions had a decent defense last season. However, the architects of the unit have been forcibly removed, and a new scheme has shaken up the depth chart.

    Yes, there are still plenty of names in the same places as last year. But some starters have been given their walking papers or been allowed to leave, opening holes in the roster.

    So click through to find out who is filling those holes and who will be backing those players up. Additionally, the names in bold are forecasted to make the final roster, while the rest will be fighting for practice-squad spots.

Left Defensive End

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    Rick Osentoski/Associated Press

    1. Jason Jones

    2. Devin Taylor

    3. Larry Webster

    4. George Johnson


    Every mention of Detroit's defensive line centers on first-round talent and potential. Neither of those are thrown around about Jason Jones.

    Jones will be a workhorse on the left side. He's big enough to move inside for a few snaps per game and will be moved all along the hand-in-the-dirt positions as part of defensive coordinator Teryl Austin's scheme.

    Behind him, Devin Taylor will continue to push for playing time. The former fourth-rounder earned a modest number of snaps (308) in 2013 and responded with a couple of sacks and 15 quarterback hurries. Those numbers won't raise any eyebrows, but it showed the potential of a quality rotational defensive end.

Right Defensive End

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    Rick Osentoski/Associated Press

    1. Ziggy Ansah

    2. Darryl Tapp

    3. Xavier Proctor

    4. Kalonji Kashama


    Ziggy Ansah, obviously, is the more ballyhooed of the two second-year defensive ends. However, he produced only seven more hurries than Taylor in almost twice as many snaps.

    Oh, and there were the nine sacks and the better-than-expected rushing defense. 

    But those two don't overcome the lack of hurries. Ansah needs to develop his pass-rushing repertoire to produce the type of impact this team needs to succeed.

    Darryl Tapp was signed to give Ansah an occasional breather. He's played both defensive end and outside linebacker, which will allow Teryl Austin to keep the versatility in his defense when the backups come in.

    Larry Webster hasn't been included because he's unlikely to make the final, active roster. His raw talents won't be enough for a team on the cusp. He'll land on the practice squad and go to the Kris Kocurek and Jim Washburn defensive line academy.

Defensive Tackle

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    1. Ndamukong Suh

    2. Nick Fairley

    3. C.J. Mosley

    4. Caraun Reid

    5. Andre Fluellen

    6. Jimmy Saddler-McQueen

    7. Greg Hickman


    There isn't any competition at the top. Only health could keep Suh and Fairley from starting every game. And while Suh is always in top shape, reports broke during team workouts that Fairley has taken Detroit's declination of his fifth-year option by getting in better condition

    The top duo will be backed up by the best third defensive tackle in the league—C.J. Mosley. He receives little fan fare but posted the sixth-highest Pro Football Focus grade on the defense despite playing only 333 snaps.

    The last spot should be a source of debate deep into August. On one side of the fight, Andre Fluellen plays the role of a veteran who has experience with his position coaches. On the other, Caraun Reid has more potential but might need polish before he can match Fluellen's 2014 level of production.

Weak-Side Linebacker

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    Rick Osentoski/Associated Press

    1. DeAndre Levy

    2. Cory Greenwood

    3. Justin Jackson


    DeAndre Levy has a strong grasp on the new weak-side linebacker position. Actually, it's more of a stranglehold.

    Levy took a huge step forward last season. He racked up six interceptions (second in the league) to pair with his 115 tackles and 15 passes defensed. 

    It's a good thing he's so good because there isn't likely anyone behind him on this depth chart who will make the active roster. Obviously, the team will have backup linebackers, but they won't be coming from this position.

Middle Linebacker

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    David Richard/Associated Press

    1. Stephen Tulloch

    2. Travis Whitehead

    3. Julian Stanford

    4. Travis Lewis


    For all of the love that has been showered on Levy after his breakout season, Stephen Tulloch was even better. 

    Tulloch finished the season with 132 tackles and anchored one of the better rushing defenses in the league. More impressively, he finished with an 11.0 coverage grade, which was the third-best mark for inside linebackers.

    Another surprise at the middle-linebacker spot is Tahir Whitehead. When Tulloch missed some practices at a recent minicamp, Whitehead moved into the role with the first team. Head coach Jim Caldwell believes he has the goods to get the job done, and his special teams play means he's almost a lock for a roster spot.

Strong-Side Linebacker

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    1. Kyle Van Noy

    2. Ashlee Palmer


    If you took a poll of Lions fans, there's a good chance that the majority would rather have second-round pick Kyle Van Noy than top-10 pick Eric Ebron. As an observer, I wouldn't place myself in that category, but it's easy to understand the rationale.

    Van Noy brings everything to the table that you want in a linebacker. He can stuff the run, drop back into coverage and even rush the passer. He perfectly fits the new defense thanks to his versatility, and there isn't a reason for him to come off the field in any situation.

    That's bad news for Ashlee Palmer.

    Palmer, last year's starter, was often brought off the field in passing situations. It's only a matter of time before Van Noy's portion of the practice reps starts to grow as he gains polish. Palmer still has plenty of value, but it'll be as a utility reserve linebacker.


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    Jose Juarez/Associated Press

    1. Darius Slay

    2. Rashean Mathis

    3. Bill Bentley

    4. Cassius Vaughn

    5. Nevin Lawson

    6. Jonte Green

    7. Chris Greenwood

    8. Aaron Hester

    9. Mohammed Seisay


    The depth chart was shaken up when Detroit parted ways with Chris Houston, and the search for a new No. 1 will be the topic of the summer. There is some possibility that the Lions could add another piece before the season opener, but it's unlikely.

    Therefore, that top cornerback is going to be Slay. 

    Slay has had a great offseason, and the new defense fits his skill set. If he can put it together, it'll help ease the burden on the aging Rashean Mathis and Bill Bentley, who will likely hold down the nickel spot.

    The next two will probably be Cassius Vaughn and Nevin Lawson, but the order is still to be determined. More than likely, the rookie will struggle at first, giving Vaughn an inside track to the fourth spot.

Strong Safety

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    1. James Ihedigbo

    2. Don Carey

    3. DeJon Gomes

    4. Jerome Couplin


    Among the many changes this offseason is the transition from two safeties who shared responsibilities to a strong and free safety. The strong safety will play closer to the line of scrimmage and be used more in run support and pass-rushing duties.

    James Ihedigbo is well suited for those roles. He had his best season under Austin's tutelage and will have little adjusting to do.

    Don Carey doesn't have the experience that the former Raven does. He's basically the Palmer of the secondary, meaning he's a versatile backup and his spot is secure.

Free Safety

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    Rick Osentoski/Associated Press

    1. Glover Quin

    2. Isa Abdul-Quddus

    3. Gabe Lynn


    Opposite Ihedigbo, Glover Quin will be studying his new role a little more intensely. 

    Quin doesn't have the same advantage of familiarity that Ihedigbo does, and there will certainly be a bit of a learning curve. The former cornerback will be relied on more in deep coverage, so he'll need to revive his old instincts in order to thrive.

    The only other option along the last line of defense is Isa Abdul-Quddus. He doesn't have a ton of experience, but he might prove to be a capable backup as the year wears on.


    All grades, stats and rankings are courtesy of Pro Football Focus, and a subscription is required.