What Are The Detroit Lions’ Options For The Left Tackle Position?
With the news that Taylor Decker will miss significant time this season due to a shoulder injury, the Lions have to consider other options at the left tackle position. Decker was one of the most important players for the Lions going into 2017, and now they will have to look elsewhere for protection for Matthew Stafford for at least part of the season.
It is extremely unlikely that they will find someone who can replace Decker’s production, but here are the ways that they can try to do so.
Players Already On The Roster
Joe Dahl was drafted by the Lions in the fifth round a year ago in the 2016 NFL draft. Dahl sat out for almost his entire rookie year to try and learn how to play offensive line at the NFL level. Dahl played college football at Washington State, where he played the left guard position his first season in 2013. He then played at left tackle for both of the next two seasons.
The biggest reason that the Lions drafted Dahl was because of his versatility, his ability to play both guard and tackle. The hope was that going into this season he would be a back up with a chance to compete for the left guard position, but now it appears that he has a chance to play left tackle until Decker returns from injury. Dahl received reps with the first team at left tackle recently in OTA’s.
Dahl’s strength is in the passing game. In college, he played on an extremely pass heavy team. Part of the reason he barely played in his rookie year was because he needed to learn how to run block, and also needed to adjust to more advanced NFL blocking schemes. Dahl is also smaller than you would want for a tackle, standing at 6’4″. If he is going to start, we need to hope that he has developed a lot over the last season. Dahl was regarded as a project player coming out of college, and it may be time to see if he has what it takes to play in the NFL.
Corey Robinson was drafted by the Lions in the seventh round of the 2015 NFL Draft. He played left tackle at South Carolina, where he started 35 games. As a Lion, Robinson has started three career games, all of which were last season. He has appeared in 15 career games. At this point, Robinson is in the thick of the competition for the left tackle position.
Robinson made his first start in week nine of last season against the Minnesota Vikings, and he was surprisingly impressive in that game, especially considering that Minnesota has a strong pass rushing defensive line. Here is a link to a breakdown of Robinson’s performance that day. He did a great job of protecting Stafford, allowing only one pressure for the entire game. Robinson would later start two more games, but was less impressive in them.
Cornelius Lucas signed with the Lions as an undrafted free agent out of Kansas State in 2014. He is massive, standing at 6’9″ and weighing 325 pounds. He has played in 30 games with the Lions, with six of those being starts. Most of Lucas’ playing time has been as a swing tackle when the Lions offense needed a sixth offensive lineman in short yardage situations. Early in his career, Lucas played very poorly, but seemed to show some improvement late in the 2016 season. In my opinion, Lucas is behind Robinson and Dahl in the competition for the starting left tackle position, but he could earn the job if he has a good training camp and preseason.
Storm Norton is an undrafted rookie who signed with the Lions on May 12. He is another behemoth of an offensive lineman, standing at 6’8″. Norton played college football at Toledo, where he was teammates with Michael Roberts, the tight end that Detroit drafted in the fourth round of this years draft.
Norton was a good football played at Toledo, excelling in both pass and run blocking. However, going from Toldeo to the NFL is a big jump. At Toledo, Norton used his size to block defenders, and got away with not having great technique. That will not work in the NFL. If Norton shows a lot of improvement, he will have a shot at the left tackle job, but at this point he is a long shot.
Ryan Clady is a 30 year old veteran left tackle. He was drafted by the Denver Broncos with the 12th overall pick in 2008. Clady had a great start to his career, as he made the Pro Bowl four times in 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2014. Clady is also a three time All Pro, making the first team in 2009 and 2012 and making the second team in 2008.
Clady has performed at an extremely high level in his career, but lately has had big issues with injuries. Clady has only played in 27 of 64 possible games in the last four seasons. His injuries have included a Lisfranc (foot) injury, torn ACL and a torn rotator cuff, all of which were season ending injuries. When Clady has played in the last four seasons, he has been alright, but the issue is that he hasn’t been on the field. However, at this point he might be so banged up that he isn’t an effective tackle anymore.
King Dunlap is yet another giant on this list, at 6’9″ and weighing 330 pounds. Dunlap was drafted by the Eagles in the seventh round of the 2008 NFL Draft, and has also spent time with the Chargers. Dunlap has appeared in 98 games, starting 65 of them. Dunlap was flat out a bad player with the Eagles, leading to his departure from the team in 2012.
In 2013, Dunlap signed with the Chargers and proceeded to have the best season of his career. He allowed only three sacks over the entire season, and was voted as the Chargers’ lineman of the year by his teammates. He was rewarded with a big four year $28 million contract, but was released earlier this offseason.
The biggest issue for Dunlap is also health. Dunlap has missed 18 games due to injury in the last four seasons. He missed his entire rookie season with an ankle injury. More recently, Dunlap has suffered ankle and knee injuries and a concussion.
Austin Pasztor started his career with the Minnesota Vikings in 2012, and has since played for the Jaguars and Browns. Pasztor has played in 58 games and started 43 of them. Pasztor is primarily a right tackle, but he has played well at that position, and at this point it couldn’t hurt for the Lions to see if he can play as well at the left tackle spot.
Pasztor saw his first playing time with Jacksonville in 2012 when he started three games. He would start 12 games for them in 2013, and 8 in 2014. Pasztor then spent the next two seasons in Cleveland, where he played in all 32 possible games, and started all 16 last season at right tackle. Pasztor was by no means a superstar, but he did an adequate job. There is no guarantee that he could play left tackle, but it could be worth a shot.
William Beatty was drafted by the New York Giants in the second round of the 2009 NFL draft. He has spent his entire career there until this offseason when he became a free agent. Beatty was a Superbowl champion with the Giants in 2011.
Beatty had a solid first few years of his career with the Giants. In 2012, Pro Football Focus ranked Beatty as the second best left tackle in the entire NFC. However, like many of the other free agent tackles, Beatty has had his career halted by injuries. Beatty has suffered from a detached retina, broken leg and torn pectoral muscle. Beatty had a good peak in 2012, but overall he is the worst player of the free agents on this list.
Cyrus Kouandjio will be visiting the Lions on Wednesday, June 7th, making him the most likely free agent tackle to sign with the Lions. Kouandjio played left tackle for Alabama, starting all games for the Crimson Tide in their 2012 and 2013 seasons. He was projected as one of the top offensive linemen in the 2014 NFL Draft, but fell to the Buffalo Bills in the second round. Kouandjio has had a disappointing NFL career so far, starting only seven games.
Kouandjio has also had injuries in his career, starting with a season ending knee injury in his freshman season of college. He would then remain healthy until his NFL career, when he suffered an ankle injury causing him to miss time in 2016. Kouandjio also had a hip injury after falling in his home earlier this offseason.
Kouandjio was involved in a very strange incident earlier this offseason with the police, in which he was taken to the Erie County Medical Center for examination. Kouandjio parked his car along the shoulder of a highway, and then got out and jumped the guardrail. He proceeded to climb over an electric fence, and started wandering around in a field. A farmer saw him, and called the police. The cops arrived to find Kouandjio in his underwear. When the police went to speak with him, he started saying to them “shoot me!”
Khalif Barnes is a 31 year old tackle that signed with the Saints this offseason. He spent the first four seasons of his career in Jacksonville, before spending the last seven years in Oakland. Barnes has played in 151 NFL games, and started 117 of them and playing at both the left and right tackle positions.
When Barnes signed with the Saints, he was the presumed starter at right tackle for the upcoming 2017 NFL season. However, with one of their two first round picks, the Saints drafted offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk. If the Saints are looking to start their rookie tackle sooner than later, Barnes could be a potential trade target for the Lions.
Joe Staley has been a mainstay on the San Francisco offensive line since he was drafted by them in the first round of the 2007 draft. He has had a good career for the 49ers, earning five pro bowl appearances (from 2011-2015) and making the second team All Pro list three times (from 2011-2013). He has played in 143 games, starting all of them. Staley is easily the best player from any section on this list. So why would the 49ers want to trade him?
The 49ers have arguably the least talented team in the NFL, and are currently in the middle of rebuilding their team. Staley will be 33 years old before the start of the season, and likely only has a few more seasons left in him. He is not in the 49ers future plans. So, to help with the rebuilding process, the 49ers may be interested in trading him for draft picks.
Staley could also be a good fit for the Lions because he is from Michigan. Staley is from Rockford, Michigan and played at the University of Central Michigan. Staley could have the opportunity to return home to finish out his NFL career, much like TJ Lang.
Most Likely Scenario
Bob Quinn has yet to make a flashy move as the general manager of the Detroit Lions, and I don’t think he will start now. He may sign a free agent tackle, but even if he does I doubt it will be a big name. I don’t see him trading for anybody, especially if Decker will return at some point this season. I believe that the Lions will let Dahl, Robinson, Lucas, Norton and possibly a low profile free agent tackle battle it out for the starting position in training camp and the preseason, and will use a combination of them at left tackle along with using the two new tight ends Michael Roberts and Darren Fells to help block until Decker returns.