The Detroit Lions dropped some devastating news on Monday afternoon when they moved starting right guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai to injured reserve, disqualifying him for the first four games of the season.
While Vaitai is widely considered the weakest link on the team’s offensive line, his loss hurts the Lions for a couple of reasons. For one, Vaitai seemed to be playing a lot better since the Lions moved him inside to guard. Last year, he scored a decent 68.4 PFF grade, which was just barely behind Pro Bowl teammate Jonah Jackson (69.4). While he only saw limited action in this preseason, Vaitai was even better, particularly as a run blocker. In 39 preseason snaps, Vaitai earned a 92.0 PFF grade—higher than anyone else on the team’s offense.
It also hurts the Lions because they’ve been building all offseason to finally debut their starting five offensive linemen for the first time in the regular season. That chemistry was being built and perfected throughout training camp, and now it’s gone.
“You can’t say enough about playing next to a guy, day in and day out, getting comfortable with them, and then through doing that, there’s trust,” left tackle Taylor Decker recently explained on the Tim Twentyman podcast.
But such is life in the NFL. Depth is tested weekly, and the Lions will have to dig into their reserves early on the offensive line yet again. So today’s Question of the Day is:
Who should replace Halapoulivaati Vaitai at right guard?
My answer: There are really only two candidates to discuss here: Tommy Kraemer and Logan Stenberg.
Evan Brown is not really part of the conversation, because he has been repping exclusively at center for some time now, and because he is just 6-foot-3 (Stenberg, Kraemer, and Vaitai are all 6-foot-6), he’s not just well equipped for the guard position.
The only other option outside of these two would be Drew Forbes, who was claimed off waivers to fill Vaitai’s spot. Forbes has never played an NFL snap, and has no developed chemistry with this team. He is not a realistic option.
So let’s dive into Kraemer vs.
Kraemer Stenberg. One huge factor has to be whichever player is more comfortable playing on the right side. That is a big advantage to Kraemer. The second-year player out of Notre Dame has been versatile, playing all three interior offensive line spots, but the majority of his reps—both last year and this preseason—have come from the right guard spot. Even dating back to his days at Notre Dame, Kraemer was mostly a right guard.
Stenberg, on the other hand, has taken every preseason snap this year at left guard. He split time between the positions during the 2021 preseason, but in college, he was exclusively a left guard for all 39 of his starts.
That alone should be enough to tip the scales, but Kraemer also simply has more experience at the NFL level, and therefore should be given more trust. Last year, Kraemer started three games (two at right guard, one at left). Though his overall performance was just so-so (55.5 PFF grade), he showed some serious growth this offseason.
Remember how Vaitai was the highest-graded player on the Lions' offense this preseason? Well, Kraemer wasn’t far behind him with an overall 80.5 PFF grade. Of course, Kraemer was mostly going up against second and third-string defenders, so to expect him to perform at that level out of the gate is simply irresponsible. Still, these are signs that Kraemer is capable of making a Year 2 jump.