Finding the Fits: DT Hand fits like a glove in Detroit

Da'Shawn Hand was a versatile performer along the defensive line for Alabama.Alabama Athletics

By Rob Rang,

This is part of a series -- Finding the Fits -- in which will review the more intriguing picks made during the 2018 NFL Draft. The goal is to identify one relatively unheralded player per team who appears to be a good schematic fit and, therefore, more likely to be a surprise contributor early in his pro career.

Detroit's best fit: Da'Shawn Hand, DL, Alabama, selected No. 114 overall (fourth round)

The Detroit Lions had two primary concerns entering the 2018 NFL Draft -- an offense that ranked last in the league in rushing yards and a defensive line that has leaned too heavily on star edge rusher Ziggy Ansah.

Understandably, the team's top picks -- offensive lineman Frank Ragnow and slashing running back Kerryon Johnson -- generated most of the buzz among general manager Bob Quinn's second draft class with the Lions. Their talent and toughness -- along with that provided by free agent bulldozer LeGarrette Blount -- should immediately boost the running game. Fantasy football enthusiasts have taken note.

Receiving significantly less praise -- but also filling a key need -- is versatile fourth-round pick Da'Shawn Hand, a hybrid that even Motor City can appreciate.

The 6-foot-4, 297-pound Hand was the victim of his own hype and a stacked position group at Alabama, registering relatively meager statistics (71 career tackles) while playing all across the line as part of a heavy rotation of future NFL draft picks.

While scouting Hand in person at the Senior Bowl, it was clear that he offers a more diverse and largely untapped skill-set than what he showed with the Crimson Tide. Hand is quicker and more agile than his well-built frame suggests, showing the ability to create some pressure off the edge and the initial burst to penetrate up the middle.

This athleticism was further demonstrated at the Combine, where Hand was clocked at an impressive 4.83 seconds in the 40-yard dash and showed explosiveness in the vertical jump (31.5 inches) and bench press (28 repetitions).

Of course, few know this better than Detroit's defensive line coach, Bo Davis, who tutored Hand (as well as 2017 second-round pick A'Shawn Robinson) while serving in the same role under Nick Saban. Davis reportedly pushed for Hand, whom Quinn traded up to draft, giving a 2019 third-round pick to the New England Patriots.

"I think he has a great ceiling," Quinn said after drafting Hand. "He brings a rare combination of size, length, athleticism. He's a really thickly-built guy. The position versatility, the playing strength, the technique, all of those things stood out.

"And yeah, he was a very high recruit coming out, and he maybe didn't live up to all those expectations, but that does not mean he's not a good player."

Quinn and new head coach Matt Patricia have backgrounds in New England. Just like Patriots' head coach Bill Belichick, the Lions are expected to employ a variety of looks to maximize Ansah and the rest of a new-look defensive line tasked with improving a run defense that allowed the second-most touchdowns (18) to running backs last season.

As mentioned, the Lions also are hoping to boost their pass rush. Ansah (a pending free agent) accounted for more than a third of the team's marginal sack numbers (35, 20th in the NFL) last year. Ansah's 12 sacks in 2018 were nearly double that of his next closest teammate, Anthony Zettel (6.5), the only other Detroit defender to collect more than three sacks.

Hand, who twice recorded three sacks in a season at Alabama, won't necessarily produce the type of eye-popping statistics to earn individual honors, but his ability to play multiple roles fits right in with the kind of team-first, blue-collar mentality Saban and Belichick have created in Tuscaloosa and Foxboro.

Other thoughts on the Lions' 2018 draft class:

The broken wrist that ended Frank Ragnow's senior season at Arkansas took some of the shine off his stock from a media perspective, making him a bit of a first-round surprise. But I've spoken with representatives for a handful of NFL teams who saw him as a solid first-round value, in large part due to his size, position versatility and toughness.

Though he developed into one of the nation's elite centers with the Razorbacks, Ragnow reportedly was used exclusively at left guard during the Lions' recently concluded OTAs.

Ragnow (6-5, 312) played 15 of his 42 career games at Arkansas at right guard, so switching positions should not be a problem. At guard, he will be allowed to use his underrated athleticism (4.99 in the 40-yard dash and 33.5-inch vertical jump) and power (27 repetitions in the bench) to pave the way for Detroit's running backs without the pressure that comes with the line calls and snapping at center.

Patricia said Ragnow's final position along Detroit's line has yet to be determined. This might be a reflection more of the fact that the Lions used 11 different starting combinations along their offensive line a year ago than any knock on Ragnow's ability to handle the mental duties of center.

Lions fans are most eager to see Kerryon Johnson, who exploded for 1,391 yards and 18 touchdowns for Auburn last season, earning SEC Offensive Player of the Year honors.

Johnson (6-0, 213) runs a bit upright for my liking, possibly contributing to the struggles with durability he encountered at Auburn. There is no questioning his toughness, vision, burst and power, however.

Johnson has a slashing running style that allows him to pick up yardage in chunks with deceptive speed that leaves defenders off-balance and vulnerable to his stiff-arms and willingness to keep his legs churning through contact. Johnson has the potential to emerge as Detroit's top back, but don't be surprised if Patricia opts to use the same committee approach he watched work so effectively in New England.

Durability concerns resulted in former Oregon tackle Tyrell Crosby slipping to the fifth round, but he could prove to be a steal if healthy (as he was all of last year). Crosby was selected the Pac-12's top blocker in a vote of the league's defensive linemen.

Crosby,'s 50th-rated prospect, did not allow a sack or even a QB pressure last year. He was quietly even better in the running game, showing the quick hands, core power and brawling mentality needed at the next level.

Detroit's 2018 draft class:

1st Round, No. 20 overall: C/OG Frank Ragnow, Arkansas

2nd Round, No. 43 overall: RB Kerryon Johnson, Auburn

3rd Round, No. 82 overall: DB Tracy Walker, Louisiana-Lafayette

4th Round, No. 114 overall: DL Da'Shawn Hand, Alabama

5th Round, No. 153 overall: OT Tyrell Crosby, Oregon

7th Round, No. 237 overall: FB Nick Bawden, San Diego State

Key Undrafted Free Agents Signed:

Josh Fatu, DT, Southern California

Chris Lacey, WR, Oklahoma State

Brandon Powell, WR, Florida


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