In 2018, the Detroit Lions surprised many with their first-round selection of offensive lineman Frank Ragnow. The position choice wasn’t all that surprising—an interior offensive lineman was a big need, and general manager Bob Quinn had made it clear that he doesn’t shy away from using valuable resources on his front five.
However, Ragnow himself was a bit of a surprise to be taken that early, even though—as we later learned—he was a target for a couple other teams picking right around then. The Lions already had a starting center in Graham Glasgow, making Ragnow an even more interesting pick.
With his rookie year now in the books, let’s look back on the Lions’ decision to take Ragnow and what 2019 means with a position change coming.
Expectations before 2018
At first, it wasn’t clear what the Lions’ plans were for Ragnow. Would he stay at his college position at center and make Glasgow slide over, or would he move to guard himself? However, it became clear very early that Ragnow was headed to left guard—where he took reps almost exclusively during the offseason.
As for his level of play, the expectations for Ragnow were the same as any other first-round pick. He was expected to contribute immediately, and while rookie hardships are to be expected of anyone, Ragnow was assumed to show enough promise to validate Quinn’s choice.
Actual role in 2018
2018 stats: 16 games (16 starts)
PFF grade: 61.9 (39th among guards)
Ragnow’s rookie season certainly had its ups and downs. Early on, he really struggled, especially as a pass blocker. This was particularly shocking, because Ragnow hadn’t given up a sack in his entire college career.
However, he would quickly rebound:
Pressures allowed by Frank Ragnow the first two weeks of the season: 13.— kyle meinke (@kmeinke) October 2, 2018
Pressures allowed by Frank Ragnow the last two weeks of the season: 0.
That being said, it wasn’t like the final three months of the season were smooth sailing. He—along with the rest of the offensive line—got humbled by the Vikings and Rams defensive fronts. Still, there was enough improvement by the end of the season to give the Lions some confidence that Ragnow was on his way to being a quality starter, even if his rookie year was overall a minor disappointment.
The best development from his rookie year was his improvement as a run blocker. Former NFL offensive lineman Brian Baldinger broke down how important Ragnow was on some of Kerryon Johnson’s biggest plays from 2018.
Outlook for 2019
Contract status: Signed through 2021 season (2022 fifth-year option available)
It’s no longer a secret that the Detroit Lions plan on moving Ragnow back to his college position at center. Whether this was always the plan or whether this is an indictment of his play last year isn’t clear, but Bob Quinn certainly dropped hints last year that this may be the plan.
“Right now, he’s taking most of his reps at left guard, but that’s not to say he won’t ever play center for us,” Quinn told SiriusXM last year. “I think with the other guys on our team, we just felt to start him off at that left guard spot was the right thing to do.”
Obviously, with the release and subsequent retirement of T.J. Lang, the Lions’ situation has changed, and it stands to really benefit Ragnow.
By all accounts, Ragnow was extremely comfortable at center in college and certainly has the mental capacity to take on the extra responsibilities of the position. Take, for example, this quote for a former college coach:
Ragnow's college O-line coach, Kurt Anderson, after the Lions drafted him: "He is about as natural a center as you’re gonna find. ... (He) sees the big picture, he sees the rotation of the secondary, how that adjusts things up front, gets you into the right call." https://t.co/gEuRez5jhF— Chris Burke (@ChrisBurkeNFL) May 23, 2019
If PFF is more your thing, they certainly seem to think this move could quickly turn Ragnow into a star.
The switch to center, if it indeed continues, is something that makes a lot of sense, especially when you breakdown his grades by position in college. Ragnow was utterly dominant in college and didn’t allow a single sack on 1,242 pass-blocking snaps in his collegiate career. He was particularly impressive at center though, producing a PFF grade of 92.5 on 1,530 snaps in the middle of the offensive line. He also saw 1,028 snaps at guard, with all but four of these coming on the right side, and here he still produced a modest PFF grade of 80.6. He also committed penalties as a lower rate at center, coming in at just once every 255 snaps compared with once every 146.9 snaps at guard.
Considering Glasgow has plenty of experience at guard, this move seems like a no-brainer for Detroit, and with it comes huge expectations for Ragnow in his second year.