Taylor Decker Made Me Feel Bad…
It’s difficult to be a Lions fan sometimes. Our fandom has been mired by disappointment and frustration. Detroit has been one of the least successful franchises in not just the NFL, but in all of sports. For as long as I can remember, the Lions have been an afterthought. Being somewhat young, I remember very little of the Sanders era. I grew up in the Millen era, an eight year period of darkness in which we posted the worst eight-year record in league history. An eight year period which culminated in the only winless NFL season ever.
Perhaps what I remember most vividly from that era was year after year of draft failures. Joey Harrington. Charles Rodgers. Mike Williams. Ernie Sims. The list goes on and on. Players that were supposed to change the fortunes of the franchise inevitably failed us, and the team continued to wallow in mediocrity. Millen was finally fired, and there was suddenly reason to hope. Calvin Johnson was emerging as one of the top receivers in the league, and Millen’s successor, Mayhew, had great back-to-back first rounders in Matt Stafford and Ndamukong Suh. The Lions cracked the playoffs in 2011, but failed to return in 2012. They made it back in 2014, but let us down again with a 7-9 campaign in 2015.
Mayhew eventually met the same fate as his predecessor. Enter Bob Quinn, the first outside hire the Lions had made in a long time. He came from a winning organization in New England. He knew how to do things the right way. The Patriot way. He was supposed to save us. He started off well enough, making several quality moves in free agency. Things were looking up. Yet, here he was, disappointing us on draft night. Again.
The pick came down with plenty of time still on the clock, “Taylor Decker, offensive tackle, Ohio State.” I was speechless. In my mind, this was Riley Reiff all over again.
“A right tackle in the first round?”
“What happened to trading down? The Jets and Browns wanted to move up.”
“There were so many good defenders still on the board.”
But, I’ll be the first to admit it – I was wrong about Taylor Decker.
Things are changing
As Lions fans, we are so accustomed to feeling upset that it’s almost reflexive to decry anything the team does, especially on draft night. In Detroit, the norm is reaching, drafting busts, and taking players we don’t need. In a way, it can feel good to feel bad about this team. We’re so used to doing poorly in the draft that we’ve almost been conditioned to assume whatever we do is wrong. And because whatever we do is wrong, what other teams do can seem inherently right by comparison. Because of this, it’s really easy to look at what other teams are doing and become envious.
Trading down was en vogue this year, and with all the pick-swapping going on, it felt as if were left out of the action. Moving ahead in the draft makes a bigger splash, but moving back and getting more picks is sexier because it seems smarter. But, that doesn’t make it so. A lot of fans, myself included, placed an expectation on Quinn to do something exciting to usher in a new era in franchise history. When he failed to deliver, people were let down. But, it wasn’t Quinn who disappointed them; we set ourselves up for disappointment.
Taylor Decker wasn’t the flashiest pick, and it’s easy to understand why some fans weren’t thrilled by it. It’s hard to get excited by a guy that’s considered ‘just’ the fourth-best offensive tackle in the draft. Watching tape on offensive linemen is boring, and he wasn’t as hyped as some of the other guys, so some peg him as a consolation prize. Others are quick to point at some of the defenders remaining on the board, partially because of the tired “the Lions took x over y and z” narrative.
The simple fact of the matter is that the Lions needed a tackle. Even a right tackle will go a long ways towards improving the offensive line play. At no. 46 in the second round, Detroit wasn’t guaranteed to get a starting-caliber tackle. Matt Stafford has been sacked 89 times – and hit countless more – in the past two years. The rushing attack ranked dead last in the league last season, and has been dismal for the past several seasons. The Lions needed a tackle in a bad way, and they got a good one in Taylor Decker.
In his post-selection press conference, Decker said he viewed the offensive line as a unit and emphasized he just wanted to do his best as a part of it. Watching game tape of Decker leads me to believe he has a good ceiling and the potential to play left tackle, but some scouts disagree. And they very well could be right. He may never be a Pro Bowler, but he should be a solid starter for years to come. If he can keep Matthew Stafford upright and help him make more Pro Bowls, then the investment will have paid off. Isn’t that really what this is all about, anyway? The last question Quinn fielded in his press conference was about being risk-averse. He said that in the first few years of his reign, he’d prefer to be safe rather than sorry. Decker at sixteenth overall may not have been the sexy pick, but it was a safe pick to keep Matt Stafford safe. It also happened to be the right one.