The Detroit Lions’ guard situation could be one of the more fascinating position battles we see this summer. The Lions decided to move on from Graham Glasgow—arguably their best guard—while bringing back veteran Oday Aboushi and Kenny Wiggins.
To make things even more complicated, the Lions drafted guards in back-to-back rounds of the 2020 NFL Draft, meaning the competition will be heated from the minute the players finally take the practice field.
One player caught in the middle is 2019 starting left guard Joe Dahl. Will he hold onto his starting position? Let’s take a closer look.
Expectations heading into 2019
Coming into the season, Dahl had only started four games in his career. The 2016 fifth-round pick was still a relatively unknown commodity, so it wasn’t clear that he would enter the season as the starter. Having to battle out Aboushi, Wiggins and even undrafted rookie Beau Benzschawel, many didn’t really give Dahl much of a chance to be a starter.
Even when Dahl got his extension at the beginning of the preseason, most assumed he would continue his career as a depth player and not crack the starting lineup unless injury called for it.
Actual role in 2019
2019 stats: 12 games (13 starts)
PFF grade: 64.9 (t-25th of 87 qualifying guards )
Surprisingly, Dahl won out in training camp and was the Week 1 starter at left guard. That being said, he was a regular part of the guard rotation with Kenny Wiggins, who took an average of one to two series away from Dahl every game.
As for his performance, it was good enough. Dahl was particularly good at pass blocking, allowing just three sacks all year per PFF, but his run blocking game was well below average (57.1). Still, he maintained his starting job all year, until a knee and back injury landed him on IR for the final three games of the season.
Outlook for 2020
Contract status: Signed through 2021
Dahl is a roster lock for 2020, but his grasp on the starting job could seriously be slipping. Right now, many assume Detroit’s third-round pick Jonah Jackson will take over the right guard spot left vacant by Glasgow’s departure. However, Jackson played left guard at Ohio State, which could certainly put Dahl’s job in jeopardy since he’s only played on the left side since landing in Detroit.
Even if the Lions do decide to put Jackson on the right side—he played there at Rutgers—the drafting of Logan Stenberg in the fourth round could very well mean Dahl is living on borrowed time at left guard. Stenberg is a more raw prospect than Jackson, seeing as he played in an extremely run-heavy offense at Kentucky. Dahl would likely start the season at left guard in this scenario, but if Stenberg is a quick learner, he could take the job over before the season is through, especially if Dahl shows any signs of struggle.
Either way, Dahl provides good, affordable depth on the interior of the offensive line, and should be considered a starter until proven otherwise.