Lions put in extra work scouting offensive line prospects this season
Allen Park — For the third time in four years, Detroit Lions general manager Bob Quinn could be looking for a starting offensive lineman in the NFL Draft.
In his first season at the helm, Quinn selected plug-and-play starter Taylor Decker in the first round and eventual starter Graham Glasgow in the third. And after using free agency to address a pair of openings in the starting lineup in 2017, Quinn went back to the draft well last year, snagging guard Frank Ragnow with the No. 20 pick.
This go-around, it's the other guard spot that's the focus heading into next week's draft. Following the release, and retirement, of veteran T.J. Lang, the Lions once again have a vacancy in the starting five.
Of course the hole could be plugged by one of the veterans currently on the roster, whether that's the returning Kenny Wiggins or Joe Dahl, or free-agent addition Oday Aboushi.
"I think we have a number of guys that are going to go in and compete for that," Quinn said at his pre-draft press conference Thursday. "The guys obviously just got back in the building this week, so I think those guys are really going to battle it out there."
But Quinn also acknowledged this is a deep class of offensive line talent and the scouting department and coaching staff has spent more time than usual on the group, in preparation of adding another piece to the roster.
"There’s good depth at that position from the first round all the way down to the fifth and sixth round," Quinn said.
The general manager noted the draft's depth favors the interior of the line, more than tackle, but there are plenty of versatile options in this class, which brings added value to a roster.
"Position versatility from the offensive line is huge, as you guys know," Quinn noted. "We keep usually eight or nine on the 53-man roster and only seven dress, so you’ve got to have versatility. That’s a huge part of our evaluation."
Beyond versatility, many of the evaluations involve an added layer of projection. Each year, there are a number of college offensive-tackle prospects who are projected to be a better fit at guard, often based on height or arm length. Included in this year's group are some early-round options, notably Alabama's Jonah Williams and Kansas State's Dalton Risner.
Quinn discussed the difficulty that comes with considering those types of position changes.
"The running game, the run-blocking aspect of playing guard at this level is much different than run-blocking playing tackle at the college level," Quinn explained. "You really have to look at pad level, playing strength, determination, toughness, and you have to project a little bit. You have to say, ‘Listen, I see the knee bend. I see the explosiveness. You see the workout they have with the assistant coaches at the pro days. Are they explosive? Can they come out of their hips?’ There’s all those things that we look that could really project inside.
Quinn also noted we sometimes focus too much on measureables, referencing an example from his time with the Patriots.
"When I was in New England, I can’t remember what year it was, first couple of years— Matt Light from Purdue, he was an undersized tackle that a lot of people in the league kind of moved in and said, ‘Hey, he’s going to be a great guard,’ " Quinn said. "We drafted him at left tackle in the second round and he started for, eight, nine, 10 years at left tackle and was a pretty good player. So, they come in all shapes and sizes. It’s one of those things where you’ve got to take it case-by-case and study the individual attributes of the player to see if they can transition inside.”
Quinn's family has jokes
For the most part, Quinn has done a good job drafting during his three years on the job. One notable misfire was the sixth-round selection of long snapper Jimmy Landes in 2016.
Perhaps not yet understanding what he had in veteran Don Muhlbach, Quinn's addition of Landes appeared to be an effort to save a few bucks while getting younger at the position. But the training camp competition was never close and Landes landed on injured reserve that season, before being cut prior to his second training camp.
Leading up to the draft, Quinn mentioned the large number of text messages and calls he receives this time of year, including unsolicited advice from family.
"My cousin texted me from Massachusetts and said, ‘Hey, I want you to take a long snapper again,' " Quinn said. "I said, 'Well, probably not.’ "
Muhlbach, who turns 38 in August, is coming off a second Pro Bowl appearance. He currently ranks second in franchise history, having played in 228 games for the Lions.
Muhlbach would need to play seven more seasons to catch former kicker Jason Hanson, who played 327 games in Detroit.