When the Detroit Lions hired Bob Quinn as their new general manager, it was pretty obvious they were going to have a bit of a philosophy shift. The offensive line under Martin Mayhew was one of the least athletic in the NFL and the Patriots, with Bob Quinn’s help, had favored more athletic linemen for years.
Drafting Taylor Decker, Graham Glasgow, and Joe Dahl was a start. Allowing Riley Reiff, Larry Warford, and most likely Travis Swanson leave in free agency is the next step. With the team going into free agency to net T.J. Lang and Rick Wagner, it’s not clear if the team will go free agency or draft to finish the line in 2018. Should they go into the draft with that need, there are plenty of stellar options to choose from in the early rounds. Since it’s still very early, we’re just going to look at who the potential names to know could be between now and April.
Quenton Nelson, OG, Notre Dame
Football fans are sometimes averse to drafting a guard in the first round, Detroit Lions fans doubly so after the failed selection of Laken Tomlinson in 2015. Tomlinson netted only a fifth-round pick in return after trading him to Martin Mayhew’s new team in San Francisco.
If the Lions are in position to draft Quenton Nelson in the first round of 2018, it’s possible the fans could react angrily to that selection. Those worries will evaporate the moment they try to find a hole in his game, since if one exists it is small and negligible. Nelson is the best guard prospect I’ve ever watched, which probably doesn’t mean much on its own, but he’s also the best guard prospect Mel Kiper has evaluated. It’s probable he’s going to come into the draft the best guard prospect a lot of draftniks have evaluated. He’s a beast, and pairing him with Taylor Decker would be borderline cheating.
Frank Ragnow, OC, Arkansas
The working theory has been that the Lions drafted Graham Glasgow to play center eventually and if (when) Travis Swanson walks this offseason it’s his likely landing spot. If instead the team decides against moving Glasgow to his original position, they could draft a center like Frank Ragnow in the second or third round.
Ragnow would be a bit of a departure for the Lions in terms of preference as he is primarily a run blocker (pass blocking is a premium for Lions), but it’s a departure that is needed to keep the team balanced. The Lions inability to run up the gut and force defenses to play honest could be countered by adding some beef in the middle to push tackles around. Like Glasgow, Frank Ragnow is bigger for a center and size has been almost as much a focus as athleticism for Bob Quinn.
Will Hernandez, OG, UTEP
Will Hernandez is a guy I really like outside of the Detroit Lions scheme. At 330 pounds, he somehow looks and moves like a much larger man in terms of power and is a perfect fit somewhere like Oakland. I’m doubtful Hernandez will measure well, which probably keeps him off of someone like Bob Quinn’s radar more than the scheme fit will, but he’s a lot of fun to watch.
Most heavy-footed guards move like they’re running in sand, but Hernandez moves like he’s got as much of a grudge against the earth as he does defensive tackles. I love watching the guy, even if I don’t think he’d do well in Detroit. While not likely a Day 1 pick, Hernandez could go as early as the second to a team that primarily runs power.
Billy Price, OC, Ohio State
In a way, drafting Billy Price would be going back to the well as, Bob Quinn has already drafted Buckeye Taylor Decker and shown interest in several other OL in each of his past two drafts. Price is fairly athletic, though not the type of top-tier mover that someone like Joe Dahl showed in college. Still, if he’s looking for a second or third-round lineman with positional versatility you could do a lot worse than Billy Price. I have some concerns about power, but the Lions run power plays so infrequently it’s almost intentional, so I can’t claim that issue would be too big of a problem here, at least immediately.
Mason Cole, OL, Michigan
Like Ohio State, Bob Quinn and his scouts have paid a ton of attention to the Michigan OL the past couple years, so they’re probably very familiar with Mason Cole. Cole has played at tackle and center, so positional versatility is there. He lacks the ideal length to play outside, so his NFL position is probably going to be inside. While it isn’t the highlight of his ability, Cole has shown good cutting ability at Michigan, and if the Lions are going to insist on trying to do that all the time, they may as well pick up someone who can actually do it.
What the Lions need
While Bob Quinn was there, the Patriots focused on athleticism and movement ability, and that has very cleanly carried over to the Lions. Almost every OL that Bob Quinn and his team spent time on rated not only above average athletically, but near or among the elite. So focusing on players with movement skills is going to be huge.
Likewise, the Lions have moved almost completely away from their former hybrid man/zone blocking scheme and have been close to exclusively zone based. Though most zone based OL are smaller, the Lions have shown a desire to have that length and size to go with athleticism. If their present trends continue, I’d expect the team to focus on the biggest and most athletic zone blockers they can find, and if they don’t address the line in free agency, they will probably draft one in the first couple rounds.