After the Detroit Lions selected Taylor Decker in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft, it was unclear what their plans were for the Ohio State graduate. The Lions have had perpetual hole at right tackle for the past few years and Decker was slotted by some analysts as a best fit on the right side. On the other hand, if Decker could step in as the left tackle, the Lions could potentially upgrade two positions by sliding Riley Reiff to right tackle.
When the Lions opened minicamp and OTAs, they appeared to reveal their plans. Decker took all of his snaps at left tackle at practices available to the media, while Reiff spent his time on the right. However, if you’re already writing Decker’s name in pen at left tackle, you may want to pump the breaks. A lot can change between now and Week 1 in Indianapolis.
The case for Riley Reiff
Reiff’s reign at left tackle, while not outstanding, has been anything but disastrous. Reiff has basically been an average or slightly-below average tackle in his three and a half years as a starter. Much like his predecessor Jeff Backus, Reiff’s play has been unfairly maligned and overly criticized. In truth, Reiff has been adequate. That doesn’t preclude him from being potentially replaced, but there’s no guarantee Decker will be better.
Decker's style of play is his hard-nosed and lends itself well to the running game. However, some are worried about his ability to pass protect.
His intangibles will likely help make up for some of his physical deficiencies, but he likely lacks the arm length and consistency against edge rushers to play on the left side as a pro. Decker has the run-blocking prowess and mindset to be a long-time starter at right tackle, but may always be a little leakier in pass protection than offensive line coaches and quarterbacks might like.
Given that breakdown of Decker’s play, Detroit’s insistence on having Decker take snaps solely on the left side may be more of a litmus test than it is a sign of true intention. In other words, the Lions may have used OTAs just to see what they have in Decker. Theoretically, Decker could open up camp on the right side, and it shouldn’t surprise anyone.
The case for Taylor Decker
Despite Reiff’s adequate play, the Lions have been pretty clear in the past two years they are not afraid to upgrade the position. The Lions delayed in picking up Reiff’s fifth-year option, they have been publicly open to the option of moving Reiff to the right side and obviously their selection of Decker cannot be a good sign of faith.
With Reiff lined up to become a free agent next year, the Lions want to do everything they can to prepare for his departure. Detroit may want Decker to get as much experience on the left while they still have Reiff on the roster as insurance. If the Lions decide not to re-sign Reiff next offseason, they’ll need Decker to be completely prepared to take over as the Lions’ premier left tackle.
That obviously lines up with how the Lions have used Decker thus far. Placing Decker exclusively on the left side is a move that cannot be overlooked. It may have just been a test, but it certainly sends a different message to the its fans and media.
Who has the advantage going into training camp?
Theoretically speaking, if the Lions drafted Taylor Decker to immediately come in and take over the left tackle job, they would act in the exact manner they have so far. Detroit has made it apparent they find Reiff expendable while grooming Decker to be the eventual starter on the left side. It’s more than likely Decker takes that job sooner rather than later. With the Lions trying to create a cohesive unit along the offensive front for the first time in a long time, there’s no reason to delay. Decker should start at left tackle Week 1.