Today we take a look at how the Detroit Lions offensive tackles performed during the 2013 season with a little help from the fine folks at Pro Football Focus.
The radar chart below shows the Pro Football Focus grades for the Lions offensive tackle who played at least 25% of the team’s snaps and compares them to the best, worst and league average ratings. PFF grades each player on each play to produce a massively useful tool for evaluating the totality of a player’s season compared to others at his position.
2013 Season Review
The Lions had a lot of uncertainty coming into the 2013 season as they had to replace both starting tackles. Of particular concern was how Riley Reiff could hold up as the full time left tackle following the retirement of long-time starter Jeff Backus. While Backus was never confused for one of the best left tackles in the game, he performed at a reasonable level for much of his career.
Reiff rated out as slightly below average according to PFF, but he was able to step in and make the loss of Backus a non-issue. Reiff’s performance from game to game was inconsistent, earning as many solidly positive PFF game ratings as solidly negative. Likewise, Reiff was equally inconsistent in the individual pass block and run block categories. The hope is that consistency comes with more experience.
On the other side of the line, LaAdrian Waddle proved to be something of a revelation as he quickly went from undrafted free agent to a apparent right tackle of the present and the future. Again as to be expected, Waddle suffered from inconsistency. His breakout game at Chicago earned him a +5.0 from PFF but Waddle followed that up with a -3.0 in the loss at Pittsburgh. To put that eight point swing in context, Waddle’s overall rating for the season was +7.9.
Thanks to early starts at right tackle and some spot duty after that, Corey Hilliard crossed the 25% of team snaps threashold to make PFF’s overall rankings list. He was routinely on the wrong side of neutral in terms of run blocking but once again showed himself capable and stepping in when called upon.
It is hard not to get the feeling that Riley Reiff’s ceiling is similar to Jeff Backus. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but that means being OK with not having an elite left tackle. It is certainly the case that the Lions have bigger needs to address than left tackle and it is likely that remains the case down the line. With the Lions able to feel comfortable with LaAdrian Waddle at right tackle, the position doesn’t have to be addressed in any major way.
What happens behind Reiff and Waddle is up for debate. Jason Fox is a free agent and likely to not be re-signed. Hilliard is under contract and while $1.65 million in cap space could be freed by releasing him, that would leave the Lions without any depth on the roster. That should keep him around and allow him to serve as the primary backup at both tackle spots next season. That still leaves a roster spot for a low-cost veteran or a developmental rookie, much like Waddle was a year ago.
Now, there is a scenario which leads to some moving parts. If the Lions find themselves on the clock with the tenth pick and they feel the best chance to upgrade their roster is with an offensive tackle they consider to have elite potential, they may have to pull the trigger. It may be an unlikely scenario that requires a perfect set of circumstances, but such a pick shouldn’t be seen as totally out of left field.