Out of all the impending needs and holes heading into the offseason, none loom larger than the offensive line. Last year's bloodbath was a total team effort from Riley Reiff's struggles at left tackle, Travis Swanson's rude welcoming into the life of a center, the combined shit-storm at right tackle and everyone else's ups and downs that contributed to negative runs and Matthew Stafford nearly dying.
The running game certainly improved after switching offensive coordinators, but still left much to be desired. The Detroit Lions finished 27th in rushing offense DVOA and ranked 22nd in adjusted sack rate.
The biggest holes are on the ends at the offensive tackle position. Reiff is set to earn $8 million in 2016 despite his struggles, and unless the Lions are content with recycling undrafted free agents at RT, they should probably make it a priority to find an upgrade. There are plenty of solid OTs to target in free agency -- which to me would be the most desirable outcome -- but drafting a young and athletic OT will also provide insurance for the future. Up next, Ohio State OT, Taylor Decker.
OT Taylor Decker (Ohio State)
6-foot-8, 315 pounds
I'll admit, I was taken aback by how much Taylor Decker has improved since his 2014 campaign. I was concerned that he just did not have what it takes to play LT in the NFL. His footwork was questionable and he couldn't seem to catch up with faster and more athletic speed-rushers. I felt like I was watching a whole new player in 2015, because Decker was nearly flawless in pass protection last year.
Decker's refinements in pass pro caught me off guard. His movement skills have improved the most, and he does a remarkable job of mirroring his opponents' movements to put himself in perfect position to carry out blocks. I'm also astonished with how Decker can consistently win the battle of leverage with such a tall frame.
This isn't exactly the most spectacular play out there, but I could probably embed about 100 plays similar to this, which goes to show you how efficient Decker really is. He sets his anchor early and is rarely pushed back more than a couple of steps into the pocket. His technique in pass pro is very sound, which allows him to hang with the best of them. Or at least I'd like to think so. I really wish we could have seen Decker face off against some of the more premier pass rushers this year to get a better taste of his true talent, but his dominance was undeniable. Hopefully we'll get to see (or hear about) him skirmish with some of the top pass rushers during Senior Bowl week.
Strength and Tenacity
What really jumps out on film is Decker's brute strength. He has heavy hands and does a nice job of getting them into the chest of the defender to latch on and seal them away from the play.
Taylor Decker is a behemoth. Normally on a screen play like the one you see above, O-linemen are asked to head to the second-level after chipping or brushing the D-linemen ahead of them, but Decker literally throws his man into the dirt like he's a child, and then finishes the play off with an impressive second-level block to ensure the first down.
That's Chris Wormley getting wiped off the face of the Earth. He isn't a bad player, he just had the unfortunate task of facing off against Taylor Decker. This is what I love to see from an offensive lineman. Finish the play and play through the whistle if you have to. Show some tenacity.
The result of this play is very unfortunate, as this is when Jaylon Smith tears his ACL during the final game of his collegiate career, but still, you have to love Decker's desire to just go out there and hit people. He has a passion for the game.
I'm sure No. 17 has made better life choices.
Taylor Decker is a leviathan among his peers and is highly regarded as one of the top offensive tackles in this year's class. I currently have him as my No. 2 OT behind Laremy Tunsil and above Ronnie Stanley. He is a good, but not great athlete, though he makes up for any shortcomings with his impressive footwork and technique in pass protection. In the run game, Decker is dominant and has a mean streak that you cannot teach.
If I'm going to nitpick, I would like to see Decker improve on his footwork, specifically in the run game, where he is prone to falling off his blocks by not keeping his feet underneath him. He could also do a better job of turning defenders away from the play at a more consistent rate once latching on, which also coincides with footwork and positioning.
I hate to call anyone a safe pick, especially with OTs, but I'm having a difficult time envisioning Decker failing at the next level. Whichever team drafts Decker in the first round is getting an ass-kicker who loves the game of football and can play either tackle position.
How He Fits
Should the Lions should choose to bolster their offensive line in the first round, they should look no further than Taylor Decker. With Laremy Tunsil likely out of the picture, Decker may be the most realistic option out there for the Lions. He is a perfect fit for their hybrid running style because he can flourish in both a zone-blocking scheme and power-blocking scheme.
If I were Bob Quinn, I'd double up and sign a big name tackle in free agency while selecting one in the draft as well. Should the front office choose not to address the position in FA, then you have two options with Decker. You can start him at LT and move Reiff to the right side, where many believe he is best suited. Or you can have Reiff stand pat and slot Decker at RT. Either way, Decker is arguably the most talented tackle on your roster and you have immediately upgraded the position. Rejoice.
Grade: 1st round
Games Watched: 2014 vs. Alabama, 2014 vs. Michigan, 2015 vs. Michigan, 2015 vs. Notre Dame, 2014 vs. Michigan State, 2015 vs. Michigan State, 2015 vs. Virginia Tech
2016 NFL Draft profiles: DL Jonathan Bullard (Florida), LB Reggie Ragland (Alabama), WR Mike Thomas (Southern Mississippi), DL Robert Nkemdiche (Ole Miss)