COMMENTARY | The Detroit Lions defensive line is in the midst of a serious overhaul at the moment, but it is one of the players flying under the radar that needs to be focused on. While first-round draft pick Ezekial Ansah is an extremely exciting player who may become one of the best defensive ends that the NFL has to offer, his backup could prove more productive right away.
Devin Taylor may be 6'7", 266 pounds, but this defensive end is used to being overshadowed, as Jadeveon Clowney stole the show for the South Carolina Gamecocks over the past two seasons. However, while Clowney was garnering most of the attention, Taylor was playing great football of his own and establishing himself as an enticing NFL prospect.
He has surprising speed and athleticism for a player his size, with an ability to shed blocks and get to the quarterback. Taylor also plays with a good head on his shoulders. He knows when to engage offensive linemen and when to try and get around them. He had 18 pass deflections in his time with the Gamecocks and added two interceptions to that total.
Taylor has a well-rounded game with few real weaknesses. He is adept at clogging rushing lanes and also knows how to make sound, form tackles. Time and time again with the Gamecocks he was able to occupy multiple offensive linemen and free up his neighboring defensive tackles to get into the backfield.
Perhaps most importantly, this is a player that started four years in the grueling SEC. Taylor squared off against the imposing offensive lines utilized by Alabama, Georgia, Florida and the rest of the conference and held his own. He recorded 161 total tackles in his collegiate career and had 35.5 tackles for loss.
Ansah is obviously the player with more potential. He is a physical specimen that has the ideal combination of size, speed and strength. However, he only started one true season at the collegiate level. Does this mean that his skill set can not translate to the NFL? Absolutely not, but it does mean that his transition should take longer than someone like Taylor.
We must also keep in mind that Detroit is in a rather precarious position with its defensive line rotation. Veterans Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch are gone. Avril has found greener pastures with the Seattle Seahawks and Vanden Bosch was released by the Lions earlier in the offseason. This leaves Detroit with a lack of depth at defensive end.
In recent years the Lions have become a team that focuses on getting to the quarterback by rushing mainly its front four. Linebackers are meant to drop into coverage and rely on those linemen to get pressure without help from blitzers. This task becomes increasingly difficult if there is not a solid rotation of defensive linemen to plug in over the course of a game.
Ansah and Jason Jones are the likely starters heading into 2013, but only Willie Young can be considered a real asset behind them. This should provide Taylor with a huge opportunity to see the field from the get-go and showcase his ability. The Lions would likely love to be able to keep both Ansah and Taylor in limited roles during their rookie campaigns to allow them to develop and learn behind veterans. However, that philosophy is simply not feasible with the current makeup of the depth chart.
Taylor is going to play and he is extremely prepared to be an impact player. The knock on him is that he does not always have the motor you want to see. He can look slow at times and it is fair to question if he is giving maximum effort on every play. However, he is now in a position where he will be battling for playing time and will be forced to prove his worth. This is an ideal situation for Taylor and will undoubtedly bring out the best in him.
Ansah is going to receive almost all of the focus throughout training camp and the preseason, but don't be surprised if it is Taylor that has the better season.
Nick Kostora lives in Michigan and has covered the Detroit Lions for 4 years. His work has appeared on CNN, Bleacher Report and more.
You can follow Nick on Twitter @nickkostora
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