Written by JT Bowen
It doesn’t take a genius to point out that the Lions defensive line, in spite of the team’s overall success thus far, has been largely disappointing. After winning the Trey Flowers sweepstakes, resigning waiver wire prize Romeo Okwara, picking up Mike Daniels from Green Bay early in training camp, and extending all-world run stuffer Damon Harrison, expectations were sky-high for the Detroit front this season. The D-line was thought to be the strength of this team, combining underrated pass rushers on the inside and outside and a stifling run defense that would follow up on last season’s success.
However, through four contests this year, the defensive line has been relatively quiet. A’Shawn Robinson has been nothing short of great as he enters a contract year, but the rest of the line’s play has been mediocre. Snacks simply doesn’t look like his dominant self. Trey Flowers has been solid and improved his play each week, but isn’t playing up to his massive contract. Mike Daniels was nearly nonexistent, and an injury suffered in Week 3 in Philadelphia could sideline him for a few more weeks. Devon Kennard and the aforementioned Okwara still bring pass-rushing ability, but continually show incompetence in coverage and often struggle against the run. Luckily, the secondary’s stellar play has kept opposing quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes and Carson Wentz from totally decimating the defense, and the linebackers have kept the run defense moderately afloat, but it’s clear the Lions can’t continue to win without constant pressure or stout run defense.
Enter Da’Shawn Hand. Often a forgotten name among Detroit’s star-studded line, I personally believe Hand is the missing link to truly unlocking the huge wealth of talent of this front. The Alabama product and 2018 fourth-rounder has yet to see the field this season due to an elbow injury suffered early in camp, and his absence trails back to his placement on IR following Week 14 of his rookie campaign due to an MCL sprain. Suffice to say, it’s been seven games and counting since Hand last played, and it’s easy to forget just how spectacular his rookie year was. Hand finished with an 87.4 overall season grade in PFF rankings, which was the best among all rookie IDL’s by over ten points, and top-15 among all defensive linemen. He was voted to both the ESPN and PFWA’s 2018 All-Rookie Team and was widely regarded as a complete steal in the fourth round in the minds of several national analysts. And towards the end of the season, Detroit’s interior trio of Hand, Harrison, and Robinson was a Cerberus, counted among the league’s best defensive lines.
Despite Hand’s extended absence and unfortunate injuries, his potential is through-the-roof and should pick up where he left off last season. There is a case to be made that the Lions rushed back Frank Ragnow and Jarrad Davis after their preseason injuries, and contrarily, Detroit has taken their sweet time letting Hand fully recover. The Lions' slow and methodical approach at his return demonstrates their immense confidence in a fully-healthy version of him being able to truly change the face of the defense. Hand’s presence will assist the line in a bevy of ways, helping to eat space and stop the run alongside A’Shawn and a struggling Damon Harrison, as well as providing much-needed interior pressure that signee Mike Daniels has failed to bring so far. Additionally, Hand brings great versatility, being able to play from just about anywhere along the line, which is why the Lions traded up to take him in the 2018 Draft and extremely important to succeed in Matt Patricia’s scheme.
Da’Shawn Hand’s promising rookie season was no mirage. Hand plays with great technique, brings leadership despite his youth, and adds even more versatility and position fluidity to an already solid corps. He looks like an absolute gem of a fourth-round selection, and was a huge factor on the Detroit defense down the stretch last year, after being touted as a developmental, upside-laden player who would rarely take the field. The Lions' surprising reluctance to thrust Hand back on field and instead painfully unhurried waiting for him to fully heal is indicative of the massive role he looks to take on in his sophomore season. Da’Shawn Hand’s arrival, which I would guess is Week 6 after a bye week and four missed games will alter the defense. Hand can and will build off his outstanding rookie endeavor, and prove himself as the best player on the defensive line, in part due to the opportunities he’ll open up for players alongside him.
Coupling with my prediction, I think Da’Shawn Hand’s return will turn the Lions run defense back into a fearsome unit, as they will absolutely swallow up Aaron Jones, who torched Dallas for four scores and 150 yards from scrimmage last week. That will be the driving factor to give Detroit the victory in Lambeau, an absolutely massive game to truly delineate the order of power in the NFC North, and the Lions will emerge on top.
To conclude, I wholly expect Da’Shawn Hand to assert his dominance in a Week 6 return, proving himself the ultimate key to putting Detroit over the top.