When the Detroit Lions drafted Joe Dahl in the fifth round of the 2016 NFL Draft, they knew he was going to be a long-term project. Used as mostly a left tackle at Washington State, he projected physically to be a guard, but had none of the experience playing in a three-point stance.
As general manager Bob Quinn continued to focus his efforts on the offensive line, each year would go by as Dahl seemed to remain low on Detroit’s depth chart. He would get a start here and there as an injury replacement, but he mostly served as a potential body for special teams. It was beginning to look like one of Quinn’s first draft experiments would eventually slide off the roster entirely.
However, entering the final year of his rookie contract Dahl has come into organized team activities bigger and stronger. And he’s starting to make an impression.
“I think he’s really transformed his body over the last year,” Lions head coach Matt Patricia said on Thursday. “He just looks bigger and stronger. He moves better.”
And while Dahl certainly still is fighting an uphill battle to make the final starting lineup, he made a big stride this week. On both Wednesday and Thursday practices, Dahl was primarily the starting left guard—the one starting position that appears to still be up for grabs on the offensive line.
However, the job is far from his at this point. This week in particular, the Lions seemed to shift their offensive line up quite a bit, hoping to find good chemistry and testing each players’ versatility.
“It’s a great time of year to do that because so much of what we’re doing right now is communication, execution, assignment,” Patricia said this week.
And with Joe Dahl in particular, his versatility has been on display. Throughout his four years—including this one—he has been Detroit’s utility piece, working at all three interior spots on the offensive line and even some spot duty as fullback. While that may be tricky for some, Dahl says good coaching and help from his teammates gives him the opportunity to learn each spot so seamlessly.
“It just takes a lot of hard work and Jeff does a great job of just teaching us the offense. That’s a huge part of it is his communication to us. That just makes it so much easier” Dahl said. “And then we’re constantly just talking between ourselves. So we’re helping each other.”
It’s still extremely early, especially with no pads on at this point in the offseason. However, it’s clear that in his fourth year in the league, he has value to the team. Whether that means as a starter, a versatile piece off the bench or just a special teams guy, it looks like Dahl is headed to his fourth year on the roster, which is no small accomplishment for a fifth-round draft pick.
“He can be versatile in the inside positions,” Patricia said. “Again, if you can be flexible, or you have multiple roles on the team, you increase your value to the team.”