Lions' offensive line in good shape ahead of NFL draft
Allen Park — Over the next several days, leading up to the NFL draft, we’ll take a position-by-position look at the Detroit Lions’ roster situation and evaluate how the team might address these positions during the event. Today: Offensive line.
Current roster: Taylor Decker, Rick Wagner, Corey Robinson, Cornelius Lucas, Pierce Burton, Graham Glasgow, T.J. Lang, Joe Dahl, Laken Tomlinson, Brandon Thomas, Travis Swanson, Matt Rotheram
Top prospects: Ryan Ramczyk, Forrest Lamp, Cam Robinson, Garett Bolles
Mid-round fits: Dion Dawkins, Dan Feeney, Pat Elflein
Late-round options: Cameron Tom, Cam Keizur, Colin Buchanan
Short-term need: 2 on a 1-to-10 scale
Long-term need: 4 on a 1-to-10 scale
Analysis: Let’s be clear: The Detroit Lions don’t need to draft an offensive lineman. They would be perfectly fine heading into the season with the current group, and assuming reasonable durability for the starting five, the unit should be pretty good.
That’s because Bob Quinn has made it a top priority to rebuild the line since taking over as the team’s general manger 16 months ago.
Quinn used last year’s draft, his first, to fill two starting jobs and a key reserve spot.
Taylor Decker, the team’s first-round pick, played every snap at left tackle in 2016 and has the skill set and work ethic to be a very good player for years to come. Graham Glasgow, originally presumed to be brought in to compete with Travis Swanson for the center role, wound up overtaking Laken Tomlinson at left guard. And Joe Dahl, a fifth-round choice, will get an opportunity to beat Glasgow and Tomlinson for that job this offseason, but likely will fall into a reserve role.
Speaking of Swanson, he made an impressive leap in performance last season, prior to suffering a season-ending concussion late in the year. The downside is he’s entering the final year of his rookie contract, which leaves the long-term situation in limbo.
As for the rest of the line, Quinn completed the rebuild in free agency this offseason, letting quality veterans Larry Warford and Riley Reiff walk and replacing them with Rick Wagner and T.J. Lang. Both moves are widely viewed to be upgrades. The price tag was steep, but given the lack of quality offensive line talent at the top of this draft, it’s easy to see the signings as a wise investment.
There isn’t a clear-cut top tackle prospect in this class, and had the Lions held tight, it’s possible they could have had their choice of Ramczyk, Bolles and Robinson at pick No. 21. With Wagner in tow, they don’t need to sweat it out, and can focus on any number of the team’s other needs.
While unlikely, it’s also not inconceivable the Lions upgrade the left guard spot on Day 2. Glasgow was adequate, and should only get better, but Dawkins or Feeney could easily be considered the best players available in the second round.
Feeney, a first-team All-American, was a four-year starter on the right side of Indiana’s offensive line. Dawkins a left tackle from Temple expected to kick inside, is longer and more athletic than a traditional guard.
The beauty of adding a guard early would be intense offseason competition for the job, and regardless of what happens with Glasgow, he could always take over the center job in 2018.
In Quinn opts to wait until late to address his minimal offensive line needs, athletic centers Tom and Keizur make some sense, although it’s possible one or both could be available as undrafted free agents.
Another possibility is looking for a cheap, developmental fourth tackle to replace Cornelius Lucas, who has a $1.8 million non-guaranteed contract.
The Lions are confident with the offensive line they’ve built, and should be, but Quinn will tell you he’s always looking for upgrades. Although it won’t be a necessity, there could be opportunities to solidify the unit in the draft depending how the board falls.