best free agent pass rusher targets for Detroit Lions

By: Noah Nichols

The Detroit Lions added Levi Onwuzurike with their second pick in the 2021 NFL draft. However, they have not added anyone after him to rush the opposing quarterback. The lions still lack a real presence on this side of the football. The Okwara brothers are the Lions starting EDGE rushers, and Michael Brockers and Trey Flowers head up the defensive tackle group. Certainly not a horrible group, but nothing to write home about. Considering this need, the Lions need to add one or two more players in free agency to their front seven. Below are three edge players and three defensive tackles. Any of them will add a veteran presence, with some upside. A few, like Melvin Ingram, do have the potential for injury, but the Lions could still take a cheap flyer on one of them. And if any of these players were to hit, it would be at little cost to the Lions.

Sheldon Richardson, 30, DL

Arguably the best available free agent, Richardson is a run-stuffing tackle, with pass-rushing potential. He was a good player for the Cleveland Browns last year but was overshadowed by the likes of Myles Garret and Oliver Vernon. Richardson would provide a veteran presence, the potential for fifteen pass-rushing snaps a game, and would not be a liability in run defense. The biggest knock against Richardson is that out of everyone else on this list, he is possibly the worst at rushing the passer.

Geno Atkins, 33, DL

Atkins was an oft-injured player for the Cincinnati Bengals, but he was also their best pass rusher. Atkins is feeling his age now at 33, probably the main reason he remains unemployed. If he can remain healthy, Atkins could provide the extra pass-rushing juice that the Lions lack. His ideal snap count would be at about 15 per game, so as to limit the possibility of injury and keep him fresh. Atkins could see a phone call soon from the Lions soon, provided it be on a team-friendly deal.

Jurrell Casey, 31, DL

Casey only played three games for the Denver Broncos last year and was released in February. The ex-Tennessee Titan could probably be signed for a 1-year, three-million-dollar deal. Because Casey has proven to be an injury risk, the deal would be cheap, but the upside high. Casey ranks fourth on the Titans all-time sack leaders list and still has some of that talent left in him. While he is not an edge rusher, he could be the sort of cheap, high upside, veteran player that the Lions are looking for on the defensive line side of the football.

Melvin Ingram, 32, EDGE

Probably the most recognizable name on this list, Ingram does not need to start for the Lions. He could back up the Okwara brothers, be a veteran in the room, and still provide splash plays. The former Los Angles Charger still has potential left in him. If he were signed in a deal similar to the one laid out previously for Jurrell Casey, Ingram would be exactly what the Lions are looking for. It’s important to remember that the Lions won’t get a star pass rusher. What they can get is a veteran with upside. That is what Ingram, like all the players on this list, is.

Justin Houston, 32, EDGE

Houston probably has the best chance to become a Detroit Lion. He was not bad for the Kansas City Chiefs last year, he was just showing his age. The 32-year-old would be the perfect candidate to play limited snaps and provides the most upside out of everyone else on this list. He still is explosive and would not be a downgrade from either of the Okwara brothers. If the Lions are seriously thinking about adding a veteran EDGE rusher, Houston is a perfect choice. He could be had for a 1-year, 5-million-dollar deal. Pretty cheap for a former star.

Oliver Vernon, 30, EDGE

Vernon ruptured his Achilles in the last game of the 2020 season with the Cleveland Browns, and was subsequently let go. It might take up to a year for Vernon to recover, so his name will probably not be called on any time soon. However, Vernon would be a great late-season pickup. Vernon had nine sacks before he tore his Achilles, and was outplaying Myles Garret. If the Lions are looking to add a player for 2022, Vernon could be that player. A year away from football would keep his body fresh while he recovers, and Vernon could be signed for less than 7-million a year because of his injury.

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