The addition of Nick Fairley to the Detroit Lions' defensive line has many analysts and fans salivating at the prospect of the devastation he and Ndamukong Suh will create next year.
The back-to-back first-round picks will form the most talented young pair of defensive tackles in the league. There is quite a lot of fanfare surrounding the Lions and their sudden strength on the defensive line as many analysts have christened them the next Williams Wall.
The Williams Wall—Pat and Kevin Williams in Minnesota—had a stud defensive end in Jared Allen, who was able to take advantage of offenses focusing on the pair of defensive tackles. Many outside of Detroit will point to Kyle Vanden Bosch as the Lions best defensive end based on his reputation.
However, Vanden Bosch is 32 years of age and, despite being a three-time pro bowler, is at the tail end of his career. Vanden Bosch is still a serviceable option for the team and brings great leadership but only managed four sacks last season. That may have partly been because of the poor defense around him, but Vanden Bosch has only notched 11.5 sacks in the past three seasons.
There is no need to fear for Lions fans, however. The Lions best defensive end is not Vanden Bosch, in fact he is not even close.
Cliff Avril was a third-round pick of the Detroit Lions in the 2008 NFL draft. At 25 years of age, Avril is set to break out and become a star in the NFL. Sack specialists always garner a big reputation around the league despite their other flaws. Guys like Clay Matthews and Osi Umenyiora are considered elite despite their deficiencies playing the run.
This is for good reason. Getting to the quarterback is such a vital aspect of today's quarterback-driven league that every team needs more than one pass rusher. Just ask Atlanta Falcons fans how frustrating it is to not have a respectable complement to John Abraham's 13 sacks last season.
Avril will be that complement to the new Williams Wall. This is presuming that the team will re-sign him as they put a very high tender on him before the lockout.
The arrival of Suh, and subsequently Fairley, has overshadowed—and undoubtedly helped—the development of Avril in recent times. Nonetheless the Lions organization has obviously stood up and taken notice with their original tender offer. Even if that tender offer is worthless, it still comes as a signal of intent.
Although he has never started a full 16 games in his first three NFL seasons, Avril has posted at least five sacks every year. This is made even more impressive when you consider that the Lions defense has been one of the worst defenses in the league during that time.
The Lions have had horrendously bad coverage aiding the pass rush, and Avril's numbers have been improving as he gets older and the coverage gets better. Last season, he posted a career high 8.5 sacks in 13 games, as well as an impressive five pass deflections.
His versatility shouldn't come as a surprise, as the former Purdue player played both linebacker and defensive end in college. Getting to the quarterback is nothing new, as he starred at Purdue with 12.5 sacks during his final two seasons as a defensive end. Standing at 6' 3" and weighing 260 pounds, it's not hard to see how he finds his way into the backfield so often.
What is surprising, though, is just how fast he is. Avril has a quick first step and can take tackles on the outside or attack the inside shoulder and use his hands intelligently.
His knack for making plays extends further than just sacks, as he has notched eight career forced fumbles.
For such a young player, he has transitioned brilliantly to the NFL and looks set to take that next step to become one of the elite pass rushers in the league.
The additions of Suh and Fairley will make it impossible for defenders to double up on Avril next year. Much like the media has done, Avril will be hoping that most offensive coordinators will overlook him as just another average defender.
This, coupled with the improving coverage in the Lions secondary, will give Avril every possible chance to prove himself on game day. What will really make Avril a star is the fact that he has got one of the best defensive line coaches in the game as his head coach.
Jim Schwartz has been sorely missed as a defensive coordinator in Tennessee since becoming the Lions head coach. He will understand the abundance of talent on his defensive line stretches past the pair of Suh and Fairley to guys like Avril and Corey Williams, who will decide whether this line can be the best in the league or not.
Avril can definitely be a major contributor to what figures to be a devastating defensive line. Should his speed and physicality be matched by his work rate—he has repeatedly posted pictures of him watching tape on twitter—then Avril is set to break out and be another star for Detroit next year.
The only knock against Avril is the fact that he has yet to complete a full 16-game season. This may work in the Lions favor should he hit free agency, as it may serve to ward teams away from him.
Most players really begin to prove themselves in the NFL during their third season. Avril may be entering his fourth year in the league, but hey...it's better late than never.
It certainly won't be never. In fact, the time is now!
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