Lions preview: Christian Covington was a low-key signing

Throughout the offseason, defensive tackle was the focus of many as one of the Detroit Lions’ biggest needs. However, the lions did not make any splashy moves there. In addition to spending a late third-round pick on a defensive tackle, the Lions only invested in the position by re-signing players from last year’s roster.

That is until the Lions signed Christian Covington in May. Fans were probably hoping for a more significant move at defensive tackle, but Covington could play a pretty important role with the defense this year.

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Christian Covington

Actual Role in 2022 (with Chargers)

4 games (0 starts): 124 defensive snaps, 18 special teams snaps
Statistics: 12 tackles, 1 TFL
PFF special teams grade: 71.8 (47th out of 102 STers with at least 300 snaps)
PFF defensive grade: 34.7
PFF run defense grade: 30.0
PFF pass rush grade: 56.6

After tallying a career-high 52 tackles with Chargers in 2021, Covington re-signed to a one-year deal in Los Angeles during the first week of free agency.

Covington didn’t make the original 53-man roster for Los Angeles, but he was quickly signed to the active roster after Week 1. It’s entirely possible the Chargers did this to avoid making Covington’s salary guaranteed, which all veteran players get if they are on the Week 1 roster.

“We think a lot of Christian and we think he’s a really valuable contributor to our front like we do with Breiden (Fehoko),” Chargers coach Brandon Staley said. “As you know, it was very competitive for that spot and we see both of these guys as assets to our football team. And just felt this week that this would be the best decision. We’re glad we can have him on our team.”

After two weeks on the inactive list — injury free — Covington finally made his 2022 debut in Week 4 vs. Texans and again in week 5 vs Brown.

But in the following two weeks against more pass-heavy teams with mobile quarterbacks (Broncos, Seahawks), the Chargers opted to activate rookie fifth-round defensive tackle Otito Ogbonnia instead.

Covington returned to the game-day roster in Weeks 9 and 10 and had an increased role on defense. But in Week 10, the Chargers unfortunately lost Covington for the season with a torn pectoral muscle.

Outlook for 2023

Covington didn’t sign with the Lions until May, which likely has to do with his pectoral recovery. A torn pectoral typically takes between 2-4 months to recover from, and Covington suffered his injury in mid-November.

But when he joined the team, he was almost immediately thrust into the first-string defense at the start of OTAs in late May.

As an eight-year NFL veteran, Covington brings some experience to a room with third-year player Alim McNeill and rookie Brodric Martin.

“Covington is a worker,” coach Dan Campbell said. “He’s done it, he’s seen it, all of them.”

But what does Covington bring to the field? At 6-foot-2, 289 pounds, he’s not a nose tackle. But for most of his career, he’s been a better run stuffer than pass rusher. He has just 21 career quarterback hits and 9.5 sacks. That said, he should be relatively comfortable in the Lions’ defense as their front is similar to what Staley does in Los Angeles.

Covington’s roster spot is far from guaranteed here in Detroit. Alim McNeill, Isaiah Buggs and rookie Brodric Martin are essentially locks to make the roster. But Martin may have a long learning curve coming from Western Kentucky, and the rest of Detroit’s interior line depth — Benito Jones and the oft-injured Levi Onwuzurike — doesn’t provide much comfort.

For a team that has publicly said it wants to decrease Buggs’ playing time from last season, the Lions could be looking to give Covington some playing time early while Martin adjusts to the NFL. And considering he already took first-team reps this spring, Detroit clearly believes he’s capable of stepping in right away.

Should we expect Covington to be an absolute beast and a game-changer for a defensive front that struggled at multiple points last season? Probably not. However, he could provide some experience to the unit, which will keep other players fresh and give the Lions’ young players time to develop. It may not seem crucial to a team, but it is important.

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