Astute Lions fans didn’t need to relive Joe Theismann’s graphic injury in “The Blind Side” for a reminder of the importance the league places on the left tackle position. In game four of his rookie season, Stafford got sacked, suffering a knee injury that took him out of play for the next two games and subsequent shoulder injuries have caused him to miss most of his second season.
Certainly not all the blame for Stafford’s injuries can be placed on the shoulders of recently retired Left Tackle Jeff Backus, though the importance of protecting a quarterback’s blind side has been affirmed repeatedly by the premium the league places on the position. In the 2013 NFL Draft, three offensive left tackles were taken in the top five picks.
With Backus entering his 12th season in 2012, the Lions purportedly nabbed their future starting left tackle when they selected Riley Reiff with the 23rd overall pick. The 2013 offseason brought the retirement of Backus, leaving Lions fans left wondering whether or not Reiff has the ability to be the franchise left tackle the club so desperately needs to initiate their potent passing attack. Based on my evaluation of Reiff heading into the 2012 draft, the answer to that question is “yes.”
Here’s a brief excerpt from my 2012 pre-draft scouting report, in which I gave Reiff a 7.0 (late first round) grade:
STRENGTHS: Prototypical height and adequate bulk with little body fat. Very good athletic attributes with excellent body control, balance and lateral agility. Has the foot quicks to reach the edge and mirror defenders through contact and in space. Effective in-line and downfield run blocker. Smart, tough and highly competitive player.
WEAKNESSES: Lacks elite foot quickness and flexibility. Kick slide technique is inconsistent. Plays high at times. Lacks ideal functional strength and struggles anchoring. Has average arm length and lacks power in his punch.
SUMMARY: Reiff possesses all the necessary characteristics to join the longstanding trend of OL who have made the successful transition from Iowa to the next level. Though he lacks elite athletic traits, he clearly possesses enough quickness to reach the edge vs. speed and mirror defenders in space and through contact. His footwork, while raw, can be corrected through coaching. Reiff’s lack of ideal arm length (33 ¼) did not appear to impede his ability to ride defenders around the pocket. Certainly he’ll need to get stronger in his lower half to anchor more effectively vs. the bull rush, though his lack of power does not appear to hinder his ability to generate movement off the LOS in the run game. Perhaps most impressive is his natural mobility when blocking in space – Reiff consistently hits his second level targets and sustains blocks on the move. With the requisite athletic tools, a frame to add size and necessary intangibles, Reiff is a very safe pick with upside. Mid to late first round prospect who may need time to develop, but projects as the club’s starting OLT in 2013.
Though it may take some reps for him to polish his technique, Reiff possesses all the necessary characteristics to adequately protect Stafford’s blind side in 2013 and beyond.