The Detroit Lions’ biggest strength is undoubtedly their offensive line. After years and years of investment in the draft, the Lions now boast three first-round talents on their front, plus a third-round guard coming off a Pro Bowl season. Most aren’t looking at the position as something they need to address early in this year’s draft considering the many needs elsewhere.
But the offensive line is fragile. Injuries happen, and it’s rare that a starting five remains intact for long. Detroit may be returning their starting five from 2021, but there was never a single snap where all of them played together last season. And who knows if this group will stay together for the long term.
Drafting an offensive tackle—where the Lions have two of their best starters on the team—seems unlikely. But if you’ve following football long enough, you know to never say never. So let’s examine the offensive tackle position in Part 5 of our 2022 NFL Draft preview.
Previously: Quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends
Under contract: Taylor Decker (under contract through 2024), Penei Sewell (2024*), Matt Nelson (2022), Dan Skipper (2022)
*Sewell will have a fifth-year option that could extend his contract through the 2025 season
Short term need: 2/10
Long-term need: 4/10
The Detroit Lions are set with their starters: Taylor Decker is manning the left side and 21-year-old Penei Sewell is locked in to his right. Matt Nelson proved a capable backup and a valuable sixth offensive lineman last season. Dan Skipper has been around for a while, but has only made 13 game appearances and has never started.
Therefore, the Lions’ only immediate need is some competition for backup jobs. Expect the Lions to add one or two more offensive tackles to compete in training camp, but there may not be a roster spot open at the position for when the team is cut down to 53 players.
As for long-term need, Detroit could use a capable third offensive tackle for the future. Nelson could be that guy. He’s still relatively new to the position as a one-time defensive tackle—he’s still just 26 years old, too.
And while I don’t agree with it, there is an argument to be made that the Lions should consider preparing for life without Decker. The argument goes that because Decker will be 29 before the season starts, he could very well be on his last contract in Detroit. Because of that, the Lions should consider trading him while his value is high and Detroit’s status is still rebuilding. The Lions may not be true competitors during the span of Decker’s remaining contract, so why not move him, get a high draft pick in return, and draft his replacement immediately? There’s some sense to this move, but it is a high-risk decision given that Decker is both a very talented left tackle and an ideal culture fit.
Day 1/Day 2 options: NC State’s Ikem Ekwonu, Alabama’s Evan Neal, Mississippi State’s Charles Cross
If Detroit decides to go the bold route, Ekwonu would likely be the pick. He’s a frisky player and a run mauler—in a very similar way that endeared Sewell to this coaching staff. That said, Detroit would probably prefer to move Sewell to left tackle in this instance because Ekwonu is still developing as a pass protector. But if Detroit wants to focus more on the run game—and there are plenty of reasons to believe so—Ekwonu’s ridiculous athleticism would big a big-time help.
Neal is a little bit more polished after being a consensus first-team All American left tackle for the Crimson Tide last year. He could come in and immediately play left tackle if the Lions wanted to keep Sewell on the right.
Evan Neal’s pass-blocking this season:— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) October 13, 2021
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PFF’s 4th overall prospect in the 2022 NFL Draft
Cross is likely more of an option if he falls to the Lions’ 32nd overall pick (seems unlikely) or if Detroit is able to trade back from two (also seems unlikely). Cross may have to bulk up at the next level, but his quickness and hand usage are both well above average. He’s a bit more raw as a run blocker due to Mississippi State’s high-passing offense, but he’s a quick learner after two years of SEC play.
Late-round options: Southern Utah’s Braxton Jones, TCU’s Obinna Eze, Arizona State’s Kellen Diesch
If the Lions don’t take an offensive tackle early, chances are they won’t bother in the mid rounds, either. So, instead, let’s just look at some late-round options who project as career backups.
Jones may not make to the Lions’ late fifth-round pick, but he’d be an absolute steal there. The Lions coached him at the Senior Bowl, and he’s got athleticism for days. He’s a two-time All American at the FCS level. He’s got all the physical tools to be a starter in this league, but due to his low level of competition, he’ll need some development. The Lions are a great fit because he can sit behind two outstanding tackles for the first couple years of his career.
Eze is an intriguing prospect because he’s fairly new to the game, having first played football his junior year of high school. He showed impressive growth from his two playing seasons with Memphis to his senior season with TCU. His arm length is his best attribute, but he’ll take time to develop.
Diesch’s athleticism translates nicely to his footwork, but he has some other physical limitations in his hand, arm and wingspan measurements. He’s more developed than the other two options in this section, but his physical limitations may hold him back at the next level. At the very least, he’ll have to bulk up a bit to land on an NFL squad.