One of the Detroit Lions’ most curious picks in the 2016 NFL Draft was their third-round selection. Although it was universally accepted the Lions needed to upgrade their offensive line, not many expected Detroit to replace their 25-year-old, third-round draft pick from just two years ago. While it’s true Travis Swanson has struggled in his first two years in the NFL, most figured he just needed more time to figures things out at the professional level. Instead, the Lions used significant draft capital to select Graham Glasgow out of the University of Michigan.
Center is one of the most underappreciated positions on team. Along with the quarterback, it is their duty to direct traffic among the offensive line when it comes to adjusting to the defensive alignment. Deciding on a starting center is not a decision the Lions will take lightly, but who will win the job out of training camp?
The case for Travis Swanson
Swanson has only been the season-long starter for one season. Though 2015 was a terrible year for him (-25.7 grade from Pro Football Focus, second-worst grade on team), Swanson still has a big opportunity to improve his play.
The most compelling argument for letting Swanson continue to start at center is his experience. Swanson has started 19 games for the Lions and has likely developed a significant rapport with Matthew Stafford. For a role as complicated as center, experience and comfort in an offensive scheme is key. Swanson is the only center on the roster with this crucial skill.
The case for Graham Glasgow
If the Lions truly believed that a young Swanson could turn it around and reach his full potential, why would they have drafted Glasgow in the third round? The answer is they probably don’t believe that. Drafting Glasgow is a clear sign Detroit is unhappy with Swanson and is planning on grooming his replacement.
While it may be dangerous to throw a rookie center to the wolves, there’s no better way for a player to gain knowledge of the NFL than through in-game experience. Holding back Glasgow now would only hurt his development and delay what appears to be the inevitable.
Who has the advantage going into training camp?
This job still belongs to Swanson. Swanson was getting the majority of first-team snaps during OTAs, while Glasgow was still behind Gabe Ikard on the depth chart. This system absolutely makes sense. Glasgow likely won’t be ready for the massive task of anchoring the offensive line right out of the gate. Even if he shows great improvement through training camp, the Lions are putting a huge burden on the rookie, especially considering the offensive line is already going through some shakeups at the tackle position.
Instead, it makes absolute sense for Glasgow to ride the pine and learn for at least a half of his rookie season. The Cleveland Browns did the exact same thing last year when they drafted Cameron Erving in the first round. Erving sat behind Pro Bowler Alex Mack for the entire season and even provided plug-in duty at guard (which Swanson is more than capable of doing). After parting ways with Mack this offseason, the Browns will start Erving at the center position. Expect Glasgow’s career to follow that same trajectory.