Free-agent scouting report: Lions DE Cliff Avril

Posted March 01, 2012 @ 10 a.m.
Posted By Mike Wilkening

This is the 23rd in a series of scouting reports on key players who are expected to become free agents March 13, unless they are re-signed or franchised before then.

News: Avril, who turns 26 in April, is the Lions' top unrestricted free agent. He led the club in sacks in 2011, notching a career-best 11, and his sack total has increased in each of his four NFL seasons. As a restricted free agent last offseason, Avril was one of only five players to receive the highest tender, a sign of how much the Lions value him. Now, the focus turns to whether the Lions sign him to a contract extension, give him the franchise tag or allow him to test free agency. The first two options seem more likely than the latter, given the premium teams are willing to pay for pass-rush help. "(Avril's) had great success in our system. He's young, he's developed with us and was (an) important part of our defense this year and hopefully in the future," Lions head coach Jim Schwartz said in Indianapolis prior to the Super Bowl.

Notes: A third-round pick in 2008, Avril didn't experience victory in his first NFL season, but he has been one of the key contributors as the Lions have transformed themselves from laughingstocks to contenders. The 6-3, 260-pound Avril is one of several impact pass rushers who have played collegiately at Purdue in recent years, with Rosevelt Colvin, Shaun Phillips and Anthony Spencer other former Boilermakers who have shown they can get after the quarterback.

Positives: Avril is well-suited for the Lions' attacking 4-3 scheme. He's fast off the edge and uses his hands well, and he can be tough on right tackles that are slow out of their stance. He forced a career-high six fumbles a season ago and scored a pair of defensive TDs — one on a fumble, the other on an interception. He has a good motor, too, as evidenced by a hustling sack of Raiders QB Carson Palmer late in Detroit's 28-27 win in Week 15.

Negatives: While Avril is an above-average pass rusher, he could stand to improve as a run defender. Teams gained more than five yards per carry rushing off left end and left tackle vs. Detroit a season ago. The Lions' scheme places a premium on their pass rushers getting upfield; were Avril to sign elsewhere, he might have to adjust his game.

Risk factor: Low-to-moderate. The Lions figure to keep Avril in the fold. Should he test the market, he would hold considerable appeal to 4-3 clubs looking to bolster their pass rush. Avril has improved throughout his career and is in his prime.