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Sunday, March 3, 2013

Breaking down Lions defensive ends: Why they must retain Lawrence Jackson

                                                    The Lions current defensive end situation:
The Lions lack depth along their
defensive line heading into March.
      The Lions currently have one defensive end under contract, that player is Ronnell Lewis. Lewis played in only one snap on defense last season, compiling two tackles on special teams. Kyle Vanden Bosch was cut, Cliff Avril will test free agency, and Lawrence Jackson looks to pursue the open market as well. That leaves third-year Willie Young. Young is a restricted-free-agent, meaning the Lions hold his rights and can tender him on or before March 12th. After they tender one of three contracts, Young is able to discuss contracts with any other team. The Lions can then match or let him walk receiving a pick from that team.
      The three tender options for the Lions are as follows. A 1st round tender of $2.879 million, a 2nd round tender of $2.023 million, and the original tender of $1.323. If he is not tendered, Young will then be an unrestricted free agent, able to sign anywhere. Young is a shoe-in to receive the tender, now it's a question of which the Lions put on him.

Why the Lions must retain Lawrence Jackson:
Lawrence Jackson's contract is looming
for the Lions.
      The Lions currently hold the 5th overall pick, and many speculate it should be used on a defensive end. After the NFL Combine, none of the prospects who were proclaimed top 10 defensive ends made their case to be a lock. Now the Lions must add insurance, and that begins with a player from within.

      The former 1st round pick (28th overall to the Seahawks in 2008), the Lions traded a 6th round pick to acquire Jackson in 2010, has made his presence felt as a rotational member of the unit. He's compiled 80 tackles, 13 sacks and 2 forced fumbles in three seasons for the Lions.

      Jackson has shown his versatility, compiling 399 pass rush snaps at right end the past two seasons and 263 pass rush snaps at left end in 2009 and 2010. While his pass rush numbers aren't eye popping, albeit limited action, his value in run defense are. In 2012, Jackson was among the top ends donning the 4-3 defensive scheme. In 140 run snaps, he amassed 15 tackles, 11 stops and a 7.9 run stop percentage that tied for 12th in the league according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). This wasn't a one year wonder. In 2011, with 104 run snaps, he had 18 tackles, 14 stops, and a 13.5 run stop percentage that ranked 1st among all defensive ends in the 4-3 scheme.
      Putting that in context, Cliff Avril had a total of 266 run snaps in 2012, with 17 tackles, 11 stops and an abysmal 4.1 run stop percentage that ranked 55th out of 61 possible 4-3 defensive ends.

      Jim Schwartz has shown his love for versatility, with the combination of talent, depth concerns, and his potential cap hit, Lawrence Jackson seems to be a perfect fit. Retaining him, due to his versatility, would allow the Lions to pursue either a left end or a right end, plugging Jackson in at the other spot.

      With Willie Young likely receiving his tender, the Lions must add depth to this unit through the draft or free agency for the 2013 season.

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