Allen Park — Taylor Decker expected a team to draft him around where the Lions were picking the first round Thursday night.
The former Ohio State offensive tackle worked out for the Lions, who sent general manager Bob Quinn, coach Jim Caldwell and offensive line coach Ron Prince to the Buckeyes pro day. Decker talked to the Lions at the combine, too.
“Every part of the process we came away impressed by him,” Quinn said.
So, after taking a few calls from teams interested in trading, the Lions quickly made their choice, selecting Decker with the 16th overall pick in the first round.
The 6-foot-7, 310-pound Decker, who played left tackle for the Buckeyes the last two years, will presumably slot in at right tackle for the Lions while the more experienced Riley Reiff stays at left tackle. Decker also started at right tackle for Ohio State as a sophomore in 2013.
But, based on what Quinn and Caldwell said after picking Decker, the new lineman should have a chance to earn a starting job on either side.
“We’re going to put him in the mix with the rest of the tackles on the roster and see what the best players are at the right positions,” Quinn said. “We’re not going to pinpoint him, now or until we’re ready to play a game — at what position, what side of the ball. He is a tackle, so he’ll either be a right tackle or left tackle, and that’s really to be determined.”
For Decker, arriving without a guaranteed position is no problem because he knows nobody will hand him a starting gig in the NFL.
“At the end of the day, I just want to play football,” he said. “I know I’m not going to come into a team and have a position handed to me. You have to go out there and you have to earn it, and you have to work hard and remain humble.”
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford took 89 sacks the last two years, so the team made offensive line upgrades a top priority in the draft. Quinn said the team spent a lot of time evaluating offensive linemen in this year’s draft.
“I think that was one of the areas we had to address, and I felt like this was the best player at the right time to help us going forward,” he said.
Assuming Decker plays right tackle, the Lions could benefit from his familiarity with right guard Larry Warford. Decker worked out with former offensive lineman LeCharles Bentley during the pre-draft process, the same guy Warford has worked with the past few offseasons.
For a while Thursday night, it looked like the Lions might have a chance at a dream pick as Laremy Tunsil from Ole Miss, the top offensive tackle in the draft, continued to slide following a social media post showing him smoking out of a bong with a gas mask. But Miami took Tunsil No. 13, and with Notre Dame’s Ronnie Stanley going No. 6 to Baltimore and Michigan State’s Jack Conklin going No. 8 to Tennessee, Decker was the top tackle available.
When the Lions took Decker, they also had the chance to take some defensive upgrades, like linebacker Myles Jack from UCLA and defensive end Shaq Lawson from Clemson, but Quinn instead chose to try to improve the all-important offensive line.
The Lions have had a revolving door of players at right tackle the past couple seasons as a result of injuries and poor play. LaAdrian Waddle did well in the spot in 2013 as an undrafted rookie, but dealt with injuries in 2014 and was cut in 2015. Cornelius Lucas, an undrafted player in 2014, had opportunities the past two years but failed to impress. Finally, Michael Ola solidified the spot in the second half of 2015 after the Lions claimed him off waivers from San Diego.
In addition to issues with pass blocking, the Lions run blocking needed help as the team ranked 32nd in rushing yards in 2015, which is what made offensive line help such a pressing need.
Although the expectation will be for Decker to start as a rookie, veteran Ola will have the chance to keep his spot on the right side during training camp, too, so there should be some good competition among the tackles.
Most analysts think Decker is a better run blocker than pass blocker, and that he’s destined to be a right tackle in the NFL despite being a successful left tackle on a stellar Buckeyes team. Including Decker, Ohio State had four players selected in the first 16 picks Thursday night.
In describing Decker, Quinn said he was durable, tough, smart, long, strong, agile and balanced as well as someone who is well rounded as a blocker. Although Decker said he wants to work on playing lower, Quinn said the tall lineman already has good pad level.
Decker didn’t wow in the combine drills, including a 5.23-second 40-yard dash. At his pro day, he had a 25 ½-inch vertical jump. Ultimately, though, instincts and strength will be more important for Decker in the NFL.
Decker is the first Ohio State player the Lions drafted since 1989 when they selected defensive end Derek MacCready in the ninth round. And even though he’s realistic about the upcoming transition, Decker thinks playing for one of the top teams in the nation will help him adjust to the NFL.
“He knows what winning is all about,” Caldwell told fans during the draft party. “They won a national championship. They could run the football. So, all of those things obviously bode well for him being able to do the same thing for us.”