The Detroit Lions Offensive Line Was A Unit In Flux A Lot Of Last Season.
With several new rookie additions trying to blend with the existing veteran, but still relatively young players, the season was seen as a clear development year. Despite this fact, by mid-season the Lions started to see positive returns earlier then expected as the line looked clearly improved upon last year’s effort. Just when that began to happen however the injury bug bit, taking Riley Reiff and the resurgent Travis Swanson out of the lineup, stunting the group’s growth. For Detroit to take the next step as a team, they will need to continue building this group into an at least above average lineup to both protect franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford and open holes for the running game.
What Do The Lions Have At Offensive Line
Currently the Lions have three returning starters from last year signed through next season: standout rookie left tackle Taylor Decker, Lions comeback player of the year center Travis Swanson, and rookie surprise Graham Glasgow at left guard. While the left side of the line definitely had it’s struggles at times last year, for an extremely inexperienced unit with little time together they performed better then first expected and should only improve as they grow together. On top of this they are almost hilariously cheap, with all three combined only counting for about four million dollars against the cap next year.
Swanson though is hitting free agency in 2018 and if he shows a full 16 games of performance like he did prior to his concussion last season, he will cost a pretty penny on the open market as far as centers are concerned. The real issue for Detroit’s offensive line is that Larry Warford and Riley Reiff, the best two offensive linemen Detroit has had for the last several years, are not under contract and leave the entire right side of the offensive line completely unsecured, creating an uncertain future for what the starting lineup will look like next season.
While Detroit has some good young talent waiting in the wings depth may also be a consideration for the Lions this off-season. Corey Robinson is a competent swing tackle and Joe Dahl is a quality developmental interior player, however one or the other could be forced into the starting lineup depending on how free agency and the draft play themselves out. With only unknown or downward trending players behind them like Laken Tomlinson and Brandon Thomas, Bob Quinn and the Lions front office may want to take a look around for some depth talent as well this off-season.
What Don’t The Lions Need At Offensive Line
The Lions have firmly committed to a zone blocking scheme and made major strides towards that direction, drafting three new offensive linemen last year that fit that program. Therefore the one thing they do not need is power run scheme linemen. While Larry Warford is an exceptional player when healthy, his style of play just does not fit what Detroit is trying to do now. He tries his best to adapt but at the end of the day it will be impossible to get enough value out of him outside his comfort zone when you think about the type of contract he is going to command in free agency. While the power run game is important and needs to be addressed by other means, the offensive line’s number one job is to give Matthew Stafford as much time to distribute the ball as possible.
What Do The Lions Need At Offensive Line
A lot of current Lions fans may not know who the man in the middle of the above photo is but that is Lou Creekmur, the three time champion, eight time Pro Bowler, hall of fame member, and greatest Lions offensive lineman in the history of the team. His relevance here is that he represents exactly what the Lions need in an offensive lineman going forward.
First and foremost Creekmur was durable, never missing so much as a preseason game despite playing through numerous injuries throughout his career including a crushed sternum. With the numerous injury troubles that Detroit has had in recent history on the offensive line, after scheme fit durability is obviously the next largest concern. Another important describer of Creekmur was versatility, having the ability to play anywhere on the offensive line, going as far as even playing some defense at times.
With both Reiff and Warford headed for free agency and destabilizing an entire section of the line, Detroit needs a player that has the versatility to play multiple line positions in order to adjust to changes in the lineup whether that be through players not returning or injuries that pop up throughout the year.
Finally, if you had to pick one adjective to describe Creekmur’s play, it would be athleticism. For a guy his size (he was quite large in his era) he had extremely light fast feet and great body awareness that stopped anyone from getting by him more then sheer muscle. A player that is good technically with strong athletic upside is exactly the fit needed over a more bruising player that just wants to out-physical his opponent. Those are the main traits Detroit will be looking for in players as they add to this young line.
While hopefully Reiff is re-signed, Detroit will need at least one new starter this off-season if not two, ideally on long term deals so they can begin to solidify a group that can actually get familiar with each other. That is a key to the success of an offensive line. They could also benefit from a developmental tackle prospect to take Cornelius Lucas’s vacated spot, as well as a veteran interior lineman to provide legitimate competition for Tomlinson and Thomas at the bottom of the depth chart.