Lions 2019 draft preview: Offensive tackle could be bigger need in near future
Allen Park — Over the past several days, leading up to the NFL Draft, we’ve been taking a position-by-position look at the Detroit Lions’ roster and evaluating how the team might address each position. Today: Offensive tackles.
► Current roster: Taylor Decker, Rick Wagner, Tyrell Crosby, Andrew Donnal, Jarron Jones
► Short-term need: Two out of 10
► Long-term need: Four out of 10
► Top prospects: Jawaan Taylor, Jonah Williams, Andre Dillard
► Mid-round options: Max Scharping, Tytus Howard, Yodny Cajuste
► Late-round fits: Isaiah Prince, Bobby Evans, Oli Udoh
The Lions are pretty well set at offensive tackle heading into the draft.
At left tackle, former first-rounder Taylor Decker is entering his fourth year as a starter. The team has the option to pick up a fifth-year option on his rookie contract, and are expected to formally do so in the coming weeks.
On the right side, 2017 free-agent addition Rick Wagner remains under contract for the next three seasons. And while neither Decker or Wagner have played at a Pro Bowl level in recent years, they are solid, reliable options at their spots.
Additionally, the Lions scored a capable swing backup in last year's draft when Tyrell Crosby slipped to them in the fifth round. He didn't play a ton as a rookie — 128 snaps, including a late-season start — but he showed some long-term promise.
Detroit will face bigger questions at tackle a year or two down the line, when they have to decide on signing Decker to an extension and whether Wagner's $11.9 million cap hits in 2020 and 2021 continue to be reasonable for the production he's providing.
Addressing the position this year, particularly if the team does so in the first three rounds, would tip general manager Bob Quinn's plans for the future.
It would be a stunner, even if the Lions trade down, to see the team draft Florida's Jawaan Taylor or Washington State's Andre Dillard in the first round. But Alabama's Jonah Williams is an intriguing option.
While there's a level of projection that adds uncertainty to the selection, there's a belief Williams could make a smooth transition to guard at the professional level. The Lions have a notable hole at right guard, and could plug Williams into that spot immediately, with the longer view of moving him back to tackle following the departure of either Decker or Wagner.
The logic doesn't really change in Day 2. Quinn would have to see exceptional value on the board, particularly for the 2020 season and beyond, to pull the trigger. Max Scharping of Northern Illinois and Alabama State's Tytus Howard are two small-school, big-framed talents with high ceilings, who would benefit from that extra developmental year.
The Lions are almost certain to carry four tackles on the roster into the season, and the late rounds offer an opportunity to add a developmental option. Ohio State's Isaiah Prince and Elon's Oli Udoh have the long arms talent evaluators love at the position.
And if Detroit can find a tackle prospect in those late rounds who also has some experience playing guard, even better. Quinn loves his linemen to have functional versatility.