The Detroit Lions came into the 2016 season with both of their starting tackle positions taken care of. Riley Reiff was returning while newly drafted Taylor Decker was expected to own the right tackle spot as a rookie. To the surprise of most, Decker became the starter at left tackle as camp opened and never relinquished the spot. As difficult as it is to play either tackle spot as a rookie, Taylor Decker had a good open to his NFL career and held down Matthew Stafford’s blind side with relative ease. There is far less certainty at the position coming into 2017, so let’s take a look at why.
Under Contract 2017: Taylor Decker, Corey Robinson
Pending Free Agents: Riley Reiff, Cornelius Lucas (RFA)
Riley Reiff was not extended after a lackluster 2015, and although 2016 was an inconsistent year by most standards, for him it was better than what the Lions were used to getting out of the 2012 first-round pick. Taylor Decker, as mentioned, was excellent as a rookie and the arrow should only point up. Corey Robinson only had one game of significant action early in the year and played very well in Riley Reiff’s brief absence. He would later go down with injury. Cornelius Lucas has been a known, generally bad, commodity, but the close to the 2016 season saw him shine in several instances and makes his status as a low tender RFA less certain. It’s possible he put up enough at the end of the season to justify a slightly higher tender offer from the Detroit Lions.
Free Agents Available
Andrew Whitworth, Matt Kalil, Riley Reiff, Ricky Wagner, Mike Remmers
The presence of Ricky Wagner in this free agent class makes it at least worth exploring, though the likelihood of nabbing the Baltimore Ravens standout is not very high. Outside of Wagner there are only aged veterans like Andrew Whitworth, journeyman stop-gaps like Mike Remmers or wash outs like Matt Kalil, who could be redemption projects. That Riley Reiff is one of the best free agents on the market says a lot.
Cam Robinson, Ryan Ramczyk, Antonio Garcia, Garett Bolles
Like free agency, the options in the draft are not that great. Cam Robinson is a polarizing prospect coming out of Alabama after a spotty 2015 campaign and much more promising final year. Ryan Ramczyk comes from the OL factory of Wisconsin and were it not for an injury that required surgery, it’s likely we’d be hearing more top tackle hype from him. Outside of those two, it’s hard for me to put any tackles in a top tier. The second tier is very much hit or miss, high upside and low floor prospects that are going to be significantly riskier than most years. Antonio Garcia out of Troy is an early-round target who is likely to measure very well, but struggled enough during Senior Bowl practices that I’m not sure where his value lies. Garett Bolles out of Utah has some of the best tape I’ve seen from a tackle this season, but also has some of the worst, and with most of his bad tape coming against speed rushers, there are shades of Jeff Backus that’d need to clear up.
Level of Need
Fairly High. The team needs a starting right tackle, and I wouldn’t feel confident coming into training camp with only Corey Robinson and Cornelius Lucas. If the team addresses the position, it is likely to be through the draft and it’s practically impossible to find a player who fits well enough to feel excited. The free agent market is mostly bare and barring a surprise signing of Ricky Wagner there isn’t a single free agent who would make me feel confident about the right side of the Lions offensive line coming into the new season. With limited options abound and bigger needs on the other side of the ball, it might be a bumpy road next season on Stafford’s right.
Previously covered needs: