I have been on the bandwagon of fans that are opposed to the Detroit Lions drafting an offensive tackle with their first-round pick. While I see the need to take a tackle, it seems like there will be players available at other positions that can make a bigger, more immediate impact for the Lions next season. Obviously when you draft a player it's a long-term thing, but that's why I think taking a tackle later on in the draft (like the Lions did last season with Jason Fox) and letting him develop would be a good idea.
If the Lions do indeed decide to draft a tackle with the 13th overall pick, Tom Kowalski's source at the NFL Combine thinks they will select Colorado's Nate Solder. Although nobody the Lions draft will likely unseat Jeff Backus as the starting left tackle, the lure of taking a guy like Solder is that he could start somewhere else in 2011 and eventually move over to left tackle.
"Believe it or not, for his size, he can play guard. They had him there for a few snaps at the Senior Bowl. For a guy his size, he can bend,'' he said. "You can put him at guard, right tackle or left tackle. He'll eventually be a left tackle - he's got great feet - but he can start out anywhere.''
The left side of the Lions' O-line seems to be in place with Backus and Rob Sims, and center Dominic Raiola probably isn't going anywhere, either. The right side, however, is less concrete. Right guard Stephen Peterman struggled for much of 2010, although that may have been because of an injury. And speaking of an injury, right tackle Gosder Cherilus is coming off microfracture knee surgery. Jim Schwartz believes that Cherilus is "on the right track" and that "there's good things to come from him." Schwartz also called Cherilus the Lions' "most improved offensive player" from last season.
If health weren't an issue for guys like Peterman and Cherilus, they probably would be locks to start next season. In that regard, drafting a guy like Solder would give the Lions a solid insurance policy in case a starter goes down. You obviously don't use first-round picks for insurance policies, but I don't see Solder getting on the field with the Lions at left tackle next season. To me his playing time would come down to pushing a guy like Cherilus for the starting job or filling in for an injured player. Down the road his future would be at left tackle, of course.
Forgetting about the debate surrounding drafting an offensive lineman for a second, let's just say the Lions do decide to pick an OT. Is Solder their best option because of his versatility? Is he the best tackle available no matter what? It depends on who you ask. Dave Birkett heard some chatter that USC's Tyron Smith could end up being the top tackle in the draft and might be off the board before the Lions even go on the clock. And when Wisconsin offensive tackle Gabe Carimi was asked about the top tackle in the draft, he named himself.
Right now there appear to be a lot of different options to go with if the Lions draft an offensive tackle, so perhaps things will become a bit clearer rankings-wise after the combine.