A rebuild is a time for newfound optimism. Out with the old, unsuccessful ways and in with a new identity and roadmap for years to come. The Detroit Lions will surely encounter many hiccups as they venture into a new era, but hopefully the offensive line is not one.
Out of all the position groups on the team, the Lions offensive line is arguably their best unit, and it has only gotten better. Last year’s line was ranked 13th by PFF in their final offensive line rankings of the 2020 season, with much praise directed towards the performances of Frank Ragnow and Taylor Decker. However, PFF was tough on rookie Jonah Jackson, to the surprise of some, giving him a grade of 57.0 for what appeared to be a solid season. The remaining pieces of that 2020 line included Tyrell Crosby, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, and Oday Aboushi, all of whom rotated in and out due to injuries.
A cohesive offensive line is extremely important to maintaining an effective offense, and the Lions are hoping to get some reliability in terms of talent and health. Penei Sewell is the perhaps the biggest move made this offseason by the Lions. The top offensive tackle prospect in the draft will adjust to the right side of the offensive line, but the immense talent from the Oregon product is certain to produce an exciting on-field impact. He likely relegates Crosby back into his usual swing tackle role, but that still provides some solid depth.
The biggest question mark is at right guard. Vaitai likely has the edge on the likes of Logan Stenberg, but injuries really prevented him from getting locked in. Originally slated to play right tackle, Vaitai shifted inside, and it still remains to be seen how effective he can be in that role. If Vaitai is able to return to form, the Lions could have a very stacked offensive line. If he struggles, he and his massive contract could be out the door come 2022. Stenberg, the 2020 fourth-round pick, is a wild card on the roster, but with Joe Dahl’s departure, the top backup guard spot is likely his.
In PFF’s recent rankings of offensive linemen, both Decker (19) and Sewell (31) made the list of top tackles in the league, while Ragnow came in as their third-best center. The pieces are there to impress in 2021, but can they put it together?
Today’s Question of the Day is:
Where does the Lions offensive line rank in the NFL?
My answer: I think we could be looking at a top five offensive line if everything clicks.
For all the investments the Lions have made along the offensive line, anything worse than a top-10 unit would be a disappointment to me. Brett Whitefield of FTN Network lists the Lions as the sixth-best offensive line, which I think is plenty fair. The Browns, Buccaneers, and Packers are my picks for top offensive lines, but I don’t think Detroit is too far behind.
I view Decker as one of the most underrated tackles in the league, having rebounded from an early career injury. The sky is the ceiling for Sewell, and he could jump into the upper echelon of tackles very quickly. PFF ranking him 31st on their list is high praise for a player without a single pro snap. Ragnow is a rising star in the league that will compete for All-Pro spots for years. If Jackson can win over some analysts, he might get the praise I felt he deserved for his rookie performance.
Vaitai is the lone piece holding back my judgement because of how much of a mystery he will be. If Vaitai is average, is that enough to make the offensive line elite? Can he perform at a level to warrant his contract? With a new general manager in the building, I don’t think the team has any hard commitments to Vaitai—they’re playing with house money that Bob Quinn spent. If they can get anything out of him, great. If not, what’s another cap hit to a rebuild? If Stenberg impresses in camp, there’s no harm in giving him a shot.
The Lions offense will look much different in 2021, and a lot of hopes will rest upon the offensive line. Where do you expect the offensive line to rank? Can they cement themselves as a top unit?