There are many changes expected for the Detroit Lions in this upcoming season, but one of their few strengths is the offensive line. The question, however, is how much of a strength that will be.
The left side of the offensive line is well-fortified. Tackle Taylor Decker and center Frank Ragnow are among the best at their positions, with Ragnow getting Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors in 2020. Guard Jonah Jackson performed admirably in his rookie season, and he appears to be on his way to being a dependable part of the offensive line.
Things are far less clear on the right side. Halapoulivaati Vaitai was brought in to solidify the right tackle position after the release of Rick Wagner. The hefty price tag has not paid dividends yet, as Vaitai’s first season in Detroit was marred with injuries, leading to his shift inside. At both right tackle or guard, his play was subpar. Whether the position shift is permanent or not, the Lions need to see more from him.
Tyrell Crosby played a bulk of the snaps at right tackle last season to inconsistent results. He has a chance reclaim the starting spot in 2021, but his ceiling might be “fine” at best. Elsewhere, Matt Nelson was surprisingly not awful for a former undrafted defensive end playing offensive tackle. While a starting is likely out of the question, he could develop into a decent backup.
The right guard is a serious question mark. As mentioned, Vaitai played guard for a portion of the season, and while that can be attributed to nursing an injury, the poor play from others can be blamed too. Logan Stenberg was a project, and he might not be ready to start in 2021 as well. Joe Dahl was originally believed to be the starter after registering significant snaps in 2019. However, he was relegated to a minor role for most of the season. The other player to get a long look was Oday Aboushi, who looked decent down the stretch but is a pending free agent. Like Crosby, he is unlikely to be anything more than average, but he could prove to be an inexpensive option.
If the Lions want to acquire some new talent, there are a few alternatives available. The seventh overall pick could be used on an offensive tackle, with Penei Sewell being the prize of the class—should he fall. Christian Darrisaw and Rashawn Slater are also top prospects, but the question remains if a tackle is a luxury pick for a team with so many weaknesses. Although there are no guard prospects like Quenton Nelson, there are plenty of options on Day 2. Free agency is also an option, with Joe Thuney being a prized guard, but spending a lot in free agency might not fit the rebuild timeline. Playing the compensatory pick game might be a better direction in a salary cap-limited year.
Today’s Question of the Day is:
What will the Lions offensive line look like in 2021?
My answer: I think the starting offensive line will consist of Taylor Decker, Jonah Jackson, Frank Ragnow, Oday Aboushi, and Halapoulivaati Vaitai.
The debate between playing Vaitai at right tackle or right guard will be at the forefront of the Lions decisions this offseason. When healthy, I think he presents the best option at right tackle. Drafting a tackle is a valid option, but it is one that I do not personally want.
Aboushi, meanwhile, played the best out of the guards that went through the offensive line carousel in 2021, and he likely won’t demand a significant contract. Dahl is a candidate to get cut, a move that would save $2.875 million in cap space. While offensive line coach Hank Fraley is one of the few returning coaches, I do not think Stenberg has developed enough to warrant starting him. Despite the multitude of injuries last season, he played a total of seven snaps, all of them on special teams. While a shortened offseason is partially responsible, he needs to show enough progress to make the team, let alone start.
An offensive line of Decker-Jackson-Ragnow-Aboushi-Vaitai is not the sexiest line in the league, but if healthy, we could see an all-round improvement.