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It’s time to give Taylor Decker his flowers

Three head coaches, two general managers, and a lot of roster turnover. Detroit Lions’ LT Taylor Decker has been through a lot since arriving in 2016, and at 29 years old, he is playing some of the best football of his career.

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These days if you turn on your TV or open your phone, chances are you will read or see something related to the Detroit Lions.

Whether it’s seeing second-year safety Kerby Joseph on the “Good Morning Football” set, or hearing Aidan Hutchinson’s voice on the “Rich Eisen Show”—the boys in Honolulu blue are a hot commodity at the moment.

As recently as training camp, national writers and pundits have made the journey to Allen Park to meet with various members of the organization. Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer sat down with Lions’ coach Dan Campbell, general manager Brad Holmes, and quarterback Jared Goff to discuss the culture being built in Motown. It’s becoming a bit played out at this point, but truly—what a time to be alive for Lions’ fans.

Still, with all of the excitement around the young players and new additions—I feel like some of the old guard is being looked over. Enter the most tenured Lion on the roster, starting left tackle Taylor Decker.

Drafted 16th overall in the 2016 NFL Draft by former general manager Bob Quinn, Decker is entering his eighth season in Detroit. And to put things plainly, the guy has been through it.

Things began well enough for Decker, playing his first and second seasons as a pro under then head coach Jim Caldwell. In his rookie year, he started every game for Detroit at left tackle, protecting former quarterback Matthew Stafford’s blindside as a rookie going against the best edge rushers in all of football.

In his second season, the Lions finished with a disappointing loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in a win-and-you’re-in scenario that ended the Caldwell era, and thus the Matt Patricia era began.

We don’t need to rehash what happened in the Patricia era (we don’t need that negative energy in our lives) but it’s safe to say things weren’t exactly peachy under the Bill Belichick disciple. Three consecutive fourth place finishes in the NFC North, and before the 2020 season came to an end—both Patricia and Quinn were out in Detroit.

If you’re counting, that’s one playoff appearance in Decker’s first five seasons, quite a bit of losing, and certainly—not much fun to be had during the “Quinntricia” era.

However, as mentioned before, things would rapidly change under Holmes and Campbell. After taking over in 2021, the duo began cleaning house, parting ways with veterans that carried hefty cap-hits, and getting younger in the process. The Lions’ roster saw significant upheaval, save for a few veterans like Decker who were leaned on to be steady presences—both on the field and off.

Prior to the 2020 season beginning, the previous regime got one thing correct when they signed Decker to a four-year contract extension worth up to $85 million. Good tackles are hard to come by in this league, and when you get one on your roster, you do everything in your power to keep them.

With that said, there were murmurs about Decker’s future at left tackle early in the Holmes-Campbell era after they selected University of Oregon tackle Penei Sewell at seventh overall in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Sewell was considered one of the more highly-touted tackle prospects in several draft cycles, and someone who had been labeled as a “generational” or a “can’t-miss” prospect ever since he started as a true freshman in Eugene. His athleticism and ability to operate in space is what sets him apart from other tackle prospects, and some immediately began to wonder whether Sewell should start at left tackle in place of Decker.

Adding to the discourse surrounding Decker was the fact that he missed the first two months of the 2021 season with a spiral fracture in his finger that required five screws and a plate to correct. Naturally, Sewell slid over to left tackle with Decker out of the lineup, and the chatter grew even louder. There was even talk of trading Decker on certain radio shows whomst names will not be uttered on this website.

“Frankly, I feel like the narrative of negativity surrounding my name all year pretty much has been bulls---,” Decker said back in 2021 after making his season debut. “I don’t feel like it’s been deserved. I do feel like people within the building, and do feel like a lot of fans, appreciate me and what I can do for this team. But you know the media pretty much all year has been pretty negative around me, so I’m not going to act like I like that.”

Should Sewell stay at left tackle even when Decker comes back from rehabbing his hand injury? Is it smart for the Lions to ask Decker to play a position that he hasn’t repped at since his sophomore season of college? These were some of the talking points being thrown around in certain circles.

And while it sounds easy on paper, switching from left tackle to right tackle, but those who are really familiar with offensive line play will tell you—it is anything but easy.

Ultimately, Decker stayed on the left, and Sewell settled in on the right. And in 2022, the then seven-year veteran and the rest of the offensive line really turned things up a notch. Despite once again losing starting right guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai for the entire season, the unit consistently paved the way for Lions’ running backs to find open running room, and did an excellent job of allowing Goff the time to thrive in offensive coordinator Ben Johnson’s offense.

In pass protection, Decker was his usual consistent self—checking in with a 76.5 pass blocking grade per PFF, good enough for 17th among all tackles with at least 800 snaps. At this point in his career, he has been around the block and seen just about every kind of pass-rusher imaginable. This resulted in the former Buckeye playing some of the cleanest football of his professional career.

Additionally in 2022, Decker’s physicality and strength were on full display when the Lions kept the ball on the ground. Slowing down an opposing pass rush is still where Decker earns his money, but he is a more than serviceable run blocker as well. See the clips below for some proof.

At the end of the day, Sewell will likely be the Lions’ left tackle of the future—just sometime down the road. After all, he is still only 22 years old and was already selected to the Pro Bowl in just his second season.

But for now, he can continue to be a mauling presence for Detroit on the right side of the line, while Decker holds down the fort and protects Goff’s blindside.

After all, it’s hard enough to find two competent tackles at once in this league. To have what the Lions have now is somewhat of a luxury. A consistent, reliable, top 10-15ish left tackle in Decker, and a Samoan superhuman on the opposite side with Sewell.

Yes, the future is bright in Detroit, but the now is pretty sweet, too. Slow down and smell the roses. And hand a few to Taylor Decker when you do.

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