Of all the positions the Lions will need to address in the upcoming draft on April 30, none might be as crucial as finding replacements for all the players that the Lions lost on the defensive line. In an article posted by Mlive’s Kyle Meinke, Lions Defensive Coordinator Teryl Austin talks about NFL draft prospects that the Lions will likely avoid in the upcoming NFL draft:

“There’s a lot of guys who have height, weight and speed, but they don’t produce…I think that’s what we’re looking for — a guy who plays up to his ability. We don’t ever want a guy who has a lot of ability, but, ‘Eh, it doesn’t show [it] all the time. He doesn’t do it all the time.’ Because what’s going to happen is if you get him in your system, you’re going to be disappointed because he’s going to do it only some of the time,”

These players that Austin describes are all players who have the physical tools one expects from a starter, but lack the statistical validation that suggest those traits would engender success in the NFL. Many of the defensive tackle prospects who have been worked into the conversation as possible replacements for Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and C.J. Mosley fall within in this category. Instead of trying to secure a singular first round talent replace them all; a two-pronged approach is the preferred method of upgrading this position group.  Ideally, the Lions would draft a quality 3-technique earlier in the draft and then revisit the position later by selecting Tyeler Davison as its replacement 1-technique.

Defensive Tackle Prospects and their Production

Player Name Total Tackles Tackles for Loss Sacks Conference Total Years Played
Danny Shelton 208.0 24.0 11.5 Pac-12 4
Malcom Brown 159.0 26.0 8.5 Big-12 3
Eddie Goldman 62.0 12.0 6.0 ACC 3
Jordan Phillips 58.0 9.0 3.5 Big-12 3
Carl Davis 94.0 14.0 3.5 B1G-10 4
Xavier Cooper 122.0 32.5 13.0 Pac-12 3
Grady Jarrett 144.0 29.5 5.5 ACC 4
Michael Bennett 111.0 31.5 18.0 B1G-10 4
Tyeler Davison 161.0 28.5 14.5 WAC 4

All data compiled from sources at SportsRefences.com

DavisonFrom the standpoint of production, Davison is clearly in the conversation as one of the top ten defensive tackles in this draft. Unlike many other prospects at the position, Davison production is not just a one-year manifestation as he has logged at least 40 tackles, 7 tackles for loss and two sacks in each of the last three seasons of his college career. If the Lions are genuine in their interest in players who have been productive in college, then Davison should be firmly on the team’s radar.

The 1-Technique

Within Schwartz’s Wide-9 defense Lions defensive linemen were only mildly concerned with stopping the run. The rhetoric from defensive tackles of that era substantiates this conclusion as players often said they were assigned with stopping the run, but only as an afterthought to chasing the passer. Under Austin, linemen were not only given the directive that run stopping should be their primary aim, two players along the defensive line (the 1-technique and the 7-technique) had specific technical assignments associated with run stuffing.

In defining the 1-technique Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus writes, “A good 1-technique DT can dramatically improve an entire run defense, because he makes several players’ jobs much easier.” Monson goes on to describe how the 1-technique impacts other linemen when he states, “he [is] expected to command a double team from the center and guard, which frees up other linemen to be one on one with their blockers.” Monson then ends his discussion on the position by listing NFL player prototypes who best embody what the position requires. Haloti Ngata was one of only four names he listed.

One of the criticisms scouts have made about Davison is he didn’t have large numbers against the stiffest competition on Fresno State’s schedule. That assertion is blatantly dismissive of the purpose of a nose tackle. Players like Ngata and Davison should not be evaluated solely on the merits of their own production, but that of second level defenders who depend upon their ability to occupy the attention of guards and centers. Fresno State had three defenders (Karl Mickelson, 96; Derron Smith, 93 and Kyrie Wilson, 90) in 2014 who registered 90 tackles or better. That suffices as evidence Davison consistently held the point of attack for his teammates.

While the Lions have several players (Walker, Jones, Tapp & maybe even Reid) who can rotate into the lineup at 3-technique, Ngata is the only pure 1-technique on the roster. As Monson describes above this is vital to a defense’s success against the run. If the Lions expect to maintain their position as the league’s best run defense they must replace what was lost at this specific position during the off-season.

Suh and Mosley played a combined 1341 snaps for the Lions in 2014, with the bulk of those snaps coming at 1-technique. Haloti Ngata only played 575 in 2014 but was limited due to a four-game PED suspension. The Lions can reasonably expect Ngata to play 750-775 snaps for the team in 2015. That leaves roughly 600-625 snaps unaccounted for at the 1-technique position. When considering whom the Lions will select draft projections must be mindful of whether a player matches the profile of a typical 1-technique and possesses the skill set durability and stamina required to meet that snap expectancy.

 

Name Height Weight Hand Size Arm Length 40-Yard Dash Bench Press
Ndamukong Suh 6’4 307 10 ¼” 33 ½” 5.01 32
Tyeler Davison 6’2 316 10 ¾” 34” 5.18 32

All data compiled from sources at NFL.com

I’m going to jump right into this evaluation by comparing Davison to the best 1-technique in football — Ndamukong Suh. In the chart above you’ll notice Davison compares favorably with Suh from a physical standpoint. As impressive as this is, what makes Davison a must draft prospect is how closely his on-field production mirrored Suh’s. For example, in 2014 both Suh and Davison led their teams with 8.5 sacks.  Also like Suh, Davison played over 80% of his team’s defensive snaps. The number of sacks earned and percentage of snaps played is significant because those are incredibly rare numbers for 1-techniques to manufacture.

Tyeler Davidson Spider Graph

Most nose tackles play an average of 65% of their team’s defensive snaps per season and their annual sack production is typically in the 2-4 per season range. Exceeding those totals by such a wide margin is indicative of a higher level of skill, conditioning and awareness than most other players at the position. This is precisely the type of player the Lions need going forward. In his analysis of Tyeler Davison as posted on NFL.com Lance Zierlein quotes an unnamed NFC Area Scout who describes Davison as a ‘disruptive-tackle splitter’ who could ‘really take off’ once he refines his technique. In this same piece, Zierlein compares Davison to Kyle Williams, the outstanding nose tackle for the Bills. Zierlein projects Davison as 4th or 5th round talent.

Zierlein’s assessment is fair. Davison has the production and measureables to warrant being drafting, but also has sufficient technical flaws to push him outside the 3rd round. The Lions front office would do well to find a way to regain the 4th and 5th round draft selections lost in the Ngata trade as Davison is a player worth devising a plan to acquire. In my next article, I’ll release a mock draft that includes using a plan reacquire the selections needed to add Davison to the Lions roster.