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Victor Oladipo, Pacers

How Mike Daniels can raise the Detroit Lions defensive line to an elite level

It’s been quite a long time since opposing offenses feared the defensive line of the Detroit Lions. Not since the days of Ndamukong Suh, Cliff Avril, and Nick Fairley more than five years ago have quarterbacks feared playing the Lions because of their big men causing trouble up front.

Part of the reason why the Lions broke their playoff drought in 2011 was due to the success of their defensive line, as while the defense as a whole was far from perfect, the defensive line made enough of an impact to make up for the Lions’ mistakes in the back seven, helping them to the unfamiliar position of making the playoffs.

While the Lions have been tinkering with this unit over the past few years with late draft picks and guys they found off the draft picks, they have finally invested big money in the defensive line, acquiring Damon Harrison in the middle of the 2018 season and signing former Pro Bowler Mike Daniels on Friday.

First reported by Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, the Lions signed Daniels to a one-year, $9.1 million deal to don the Hawaiian Blue for the 2019 season.

What’s even more encouraging to read for Detroit fans is that while multiple teams offered Daniels more money to come and play for them, he turned them all down because he wanted to stay in the NFC North, and more importantly, he wanted to play for Matt Patricia.

Any Lions fan should see this as delightful news. Football players have almost never sought out to play for the Lions as their first option, due to their losing culture and the stigma that goes along with living in Detroit. Seeing a well-known name in Daniels go out of his way to come to Detroit and play for Patricia may be the start of a huge culture shift for the Lions’ organization as a whole.

Daniels is not the first stud defensive lineman to want to come play for Patricia, as former New England Patriot Trey Flowers also signed with team partially due to his respect for the long-time Patriots defensive coordinator. Looks like those stories of Patricia losing the locker room this past season were dictionary definitions of false, media-driven narratives.

A fourth-round pick out of Iowa, Daniels has more than performed what was projected of him, as in a few short years, he became one of the best run-stuffing defensive tackles in the league. He was a perennial starter and iron man for Green Bay before his release, starting in 72 of his 102 games and only missing one game since 2014.

A Pro Bowler back in 2017, Daniels has posted 29 sacks in his career to go along with 236 total tackles, 47 tackles for loss, three fumble recoveries, and two forced fumbles. While those may not exactly pop off the page compared to a Pro Bowl defensive end, Daniels’ impact goes beyond statistics, as his consistent ability to block off the A-gap and eat up opposing centers and guards opens up his fellow linemen to eat up opposing running backs and quarterbacks.

Daniels’ former quarterback in Aaron Rodgers had nothing but praise for Daniels the day after he was released by the team.

“Mike has been such a great contributor for us for so long,” Rodgers said to ESPN’s Michael Rothstein. “Not just a great player on the field but a great person in the locker room and so fun to be around.”

While all that praise is well and good, Rodgers does not exactly have the best track record when it comes to his relationship with teammates, as former Packers like Jermichael Finley have preached to the press. This has to be one of the reasons why Daniels wanted to stay in the division, as he probably wants to hit the “golden boy” just as much, if not more, as the rest of the league wants to.

With the addition of Daniels, Detroit now boasts a deep six-man defensive line of Daniels, Harrison, Flowers, sophomore DaShawn Hand, Romeo Okwara, and A’Shawn Robinson. While there may not be an All-Pro piece to that line, the consistency and depth that this unit has the potential of having makes it one of the best in the league.

This improved defensive line, along with the continued improvement to the back seven with Darius Slay leading the charge, can allow this Lions’ defense to be feared for the first time in ages.