I know, I know. Earlier in the week, we pointed out how the Detroit Lions’ offensive line barely improved at all this year according to Pro Football Focus’ rankings through 12 weeks. The argument is that while the run game improved, pass protection still failed against the better teams, leading to overall mediocre-at-best grades from the analytics website.
However, Football Outsiders’ Ben Muth—a former college left tackle himself—has been following the Lions offensive line all year, specifically rookie left guard Frank Ragnow. On Friday, he released his final analysis of both the Lions offensive line and the play of Ragnow, and had some promising conclusions about the unit.
First, here’s what he had to say about Ragnow:
“Rookie Frank Ragnow has rebounded to be a solid player after what was an absolute disastrous start to the year,” Muth wrote. “I think he’s going to be a big-time run blocker in this league for a while, and his pass protection has improved as the year went along as well. Very few rookies have a completely smooth transition from the college to pro ranks, and Ragnow wasn’t one of those guys, but there were enough flashes in 2018 that Lions fans can feel excited about their first-rounder moving forward.”
Muth backs up his claims with some film breakdown, including this highlight of Ragnow pancaking the talented Bears defensive tackle Akiem Hicks. But he also notes places where both he, and the rest of the offensive line, need to improve.
Specifically, Muth notes the struggles that the Lions are having at right guard now that T.J. Lang is on injured reserve. Against the Bears, Lang’s replacement Kenny Wiggins jumped out on tape for all of the wrong reasons. Take, for example, this awful play from Wiggins on a running play.
Overall, however, Muth believes there is enough good from the unit this year to believe they could finally take the next step to be good or great next year.
“I think if they can keep the same five guys together next year, they should become a top-10 unit,” Muth said.
Obviously, that statement comes with a big “IF” at the beginning. The Lions have to figure something out at right guard. While they’d love to keep around Lang if they could be guaranteed he’d play every game, the reality is his availability has been sketchy, at best. The Lions may consider moving on in 2019, since his cap hit is 11.7 million in 2019, and the Lions could save $9 million by making him a cap casualty.
Still, if they can keep the rest of the group together and find a way to get a reliable, above-average right guard, there could be hope for this unit yet.