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Bob Quinn turned Lions offensive line into wildly athletic unit in just 3 years

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The guys lining up in front of Matthew Stafford in 2018 are a qualitatively different group from the past three years. Thanks to Kent Lee Platte’s RAS measure, we have quantitative proof.

NFL: Tennessee Titans at Detroit Lions Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Emerging from the depths of Valhalla

Back in May 2016, our Kent Lee Platte wrote a pair of articles pointing out how lacking the Detroit Lions’ offensive line was in the athleticism department. Using his relative athletic score (RAS) measure and averaging across all five starters on the offensive line, Kent found the Lions dead last in the league for the 2015 season and still dead last when he projected out the 2016 season later that month.

Additions in the 2017 offseason of right tackle Rick Wagner and right guard T.J. Lang radically overhauled the blockers on the right side. In addition to the left tackle swap of Taylor Decker in the 2016 draft for Riley Reiff (left in free agency for Minnesota), right guard Larry Warford (left in free agency to New Orleans), and left guard Laken Tomlinson (traded to San Francisco) cleared the way for a new-look offensive line.

Those changes dramatically altered the OL-average RAS because the lowest scores left (Warford, Tomlinson, and Reiff) and were replaced either by average RAS players like Wagner or superior ones like Glasgow, Lang, and Decker:

Ragnow-rock cometh for the NFC North

The departure of Travis Swanson to the Jets in free agency this year opened a hole on the roster in the interior, but also removed the last of the low-RAS legacy offensive linemen from the top of the depth chart. General manager Bob Quinn drafted his “ridiculously athletic” replacement in the first round on Thursday night:

The Lions’ projected starting offensive line now looks like this:

  • Taylor Decker, 7.15 current RAS
  • Frank Ragnow, 9.98 current RAS
  • Graham Glasgow, 7.99 current RAS
  • T.J. Lang, 9.53 current RAS
  • Rick Wagner, 4.96 current RAS

That is an average RAS of 7.922, which would have ranked second in the league against the 2015 league-wide scores in Kent’s original article. Now consider the depth behind these players:

  • Brian Mihalik, 9.96 current RAS
  • Wesley Johnson, 9.58 current RAS
  • Corey Robinson, 6.83 current RAS
  • Joe Dahl, 8.84 current RAS

There is no RAS available for Kenny Wiggins, but just look at the athleticism up and down the depth chart with the backups listed. ESPN’s Michael Rothstein wrote that he believed an offensive line selection by the Lions could hint at the kind of blocking scheme the team would use in the upcoming season, but the Ragnow selection is probably better viewed as the final piece of an extreme unit makeover. It is not meant to complete a particular scheme or system design, but instead help establish the identity for the unit as an agile group of big, strong blockers who can really move.

What’s more, the former Razorback team captain was a Senior CLASS Award recipient who checked all the high character and leadership boxes to go with amazing physical dominance (emphasis added):

Quote from QB Austin Allen: “Offseason, in-season or off-day, it doesn’t matter. Frank’s work ethic speaks for itself every single day. It’s what sets him apart from everyone else. It’s in his family’s DNA, and it makes him the player and the amazing person that he is. The list of reasons why Frank is a great player could go on and on, but I can tell you it wouldn’t compare to the list of reasons why he’s a great leader. After the Belk Bowl last year in front of a pissed off locker room, Frank got up and gave a speech that turned that moment into fuel for the offseason. He wasn’t a senior who had played his last game. He didn’t care. He delivered from his heart for the seniors. He does the things people don’t want to do to be great. The extra stuff. The things that make people question whether they want to be great. That’s just fuel for Frank. Just like his relentless work ethic, leadership is in his DNA.

That rare combination of amazing physical dominance, technical skill, and professionalism in exactly the prototypical mold at a position of need made this a great match for the Detroit Lions organization. While the team has many other needs like pass rushers and linebackers, the front office recognized the unique opportunity they had with Ragnow still on the board.