The Detroit Lions are not known for doing anything particularly well (except, yes, losing. Haha, very funny). That goes double for the NFL Draft. In fact, many of the Lions’ failings throughout history can be traced back to poor drafting and head-scratching personnel decisions.
But, believe it or not, the Lions have been one of the best teams in the NFL at building a particular part of the team. Detroit has done a phenomenal job drafting offensive linemen for the better part of a decade, and there’s evidence to prove this point.
PFF’s Timo Riske (@PFF_Moo on Twitter) put together a chart that graphically represented each NFL franchise’s success in drafting offensive linemen on a per-pick basis. For numbers nerds, this data is weighted by draft position, so the fact that the Lions have drafted a lot of offensive linemen with high-value picks is accounted for in the dataset. Here are the results:
Is Brett Veach's (Chiefs college personnel analyst, director of personnel, GM since 2013) secret super power evaluating offensive linemen? pic.twitter.com/JLrFrKzNG1— Timo Riske (@PFF_Moo) April 5, 2022
Since 2013, the Lions have been the second-best team at drafting offensive linemen. Of course, if you’ve been paying close attention, that’s not all that surprising. Here’s a list of every offensive lineman the Lions have drafted since 2013:
- Larry Warford (2013, 3rd round)
- Travis Swanson (2014, 3rd round)
- Laken Tomlinson (2015, 1st round)
- Corey Robinson (2015, 7th round)
- Taylor Decker (2016, 1st round)
- Graham Glasgow (2016, 3rd round)
- Joe Dahl (2016, 5th round)
- Frank Ragnow (2018, 1st round)
- Tyrell Crosby (2018, 5th round)
- Jonah Jackson (2020, 3rd round)
- Logan Stenberg (2020, 4th round)
- Penei Sewell (2021, 1st round)
Looking amongst this group, it’s hard to identify a single pick that was a “failure.” Larry Warford didn’t work out in Detroit, but he made three straight Pro Bowls in New Orleans. It was a similar story for Laken Tomlinson, who flourished in San Francisco after leaving Detroit. Just about everyone else in this group lived up to expectations by draft round or exceeded them. Detroit even hit relatively well on their mid-round picks of Tyrell Crosby and Joe Dahl.
Of course, none of that has paid off in the win department. Part of that was likely due to Detroit’s coaching failing to get the most out of picks like Warford and Tomlinson, while letting Graham Glasgow walk in free agency.
However, looking into 2022, the future looks promising. Detroit has three first-round picks in their projected starting lineup—all of whom have shown flashes of elite play. A third-round pick in Jackson fills out one of the guard spots and the other is filled by a veteran (Halapoulivaati Vaitai) who showed he’s probably better inside than as a tackle.
Put it all together, and the Lions may have their most formidable offensive line in years. But don’t take my word for it, look at these pass protection projections for next year:
One more spin on this: same data and projections as above, but broken down by each position.— Computer Cowboy (@benbbaldwin) March 30, 2022
If you're curious about which player is projected at a given position, check the team's Ourlads page: https://t.co/h5ALz0DplV pic.twitter.com/3gSPV39IPA
That’s your Detroit Lions again ranked second in the entire NFL. Of course, you’re probably looking at this and wondering, “Why the hell is Penei Sewell’s number so low?” That’s a fair question. For as well as Sewell played in his rookie season, he graded out as merely an above-average pass protector per PFF (69.4). Also, Ben Baldwin, who created this predictive model, did say that it could underestimate the value of rookies who struggled in 2021.
Remaining weaknesses of this approach (work in progress!):— Computer Cowboy (@benbbaldwin) March 30, 2022
-- Grades for players who played through injury artificially low (Ryan Kelly, Q Nelson)
-- Might be too low on highly-drafted players who weren't great as rookies (Spencer Brown, Eichenberg)
-- Depth charts not perfect
Either way, Lions fans should be very encouraged about their starting offensive line going forward, especially considering all of them are signed at least through the next two seasons.
- The fellas at The Athletic put together an entertaining seven-round Lions mock that I would say is mostly a crowd-pleaser.
- A couple of our Pride of Detroit staffers are making appearances on other Lions podcasts. Don’t miss ‘em!
Super excited to get @erikschlitt from @PrideOfDetroit to join the podcast tonight! We got TON of questions about Brad Holmes, #Lions salary cap, Erik's love for Travon Walker, and so much more!— Questionable Teez (@QuestionableTz) April 5, 2022
Catch it all on YouTube tomorrow at 1pm!#Lions #OnePride pic.twitter.com/TURfovVUdW
- Brad Holmes spoke briefly about why the Lions brought back linebacker Jarrad Davis. MLive’s Kyle Meinke has that story.
- I think it’s safe to say Jamaal Williams is pretty excited for Hard Knocks:
- Free agency is far from over, so Justin Rogers of the Detroit News has five available players that could still help Detroit ($).
- Contract details for the latest Lions tight end: