Many felt that the Detroit Lions would have drafted an offensive tackle last year had one of the premier prospects at that position been available to them with the fifth overall pick. Eric Fisher, Luke Joeckel and Lane Johnson were all off the board by the Lions were on the clock so they went with defensive end Ziggy Ansah.
As the year played out, what was perceived as a need in late April was largely considered settled with Riley Reiff doing an adequate job taking over for the retired Jeff Backus and undrafted free agent LaAdrian Waddle surprising everyone by contributing and looking the part of a true solution at right tackle. While the Lions are comfortable with both players, don’t let it come as a surprise if they find themselves with an opportunity to upgrade and capitalize on it. It’s a subject Martin Mayhew touched on at the NFL combine. Via the Detroit News:
“Both of those guys are quality players on our offensive line, and we wouldn’t shy away at all from putting those guys on the field,” he said. “I feel comfortable with those guys out there, but by the same token, if you can upgrade that position, I think you have to look into that.”
Could it be that tackle is a draft possibility for the Lions that is flying under the radar?
The Lions need a wide receiver and Sammy Watkins is the kind of talent they wouldn’t (or at least shouldn’t) pass on if he is available when they pick. But what if he isn’t? That’s when the direction loses clarity. With the wide receiver class being so deep, is it worth making the second or third best a top ten pick? Is it worth taking a tight end or safety even if it might be a reach? Would the Lions change the way they have discounted the cornerback position and choose one in the top ten?
Yes, perhaps we would be wise to consider an offensive tackle a real option in the first round.
Some pre-draft scouting reports noted that Reiff’s future may be at right tackle, or even guard, and while he wasn’t a disaster at left tackle, he doesn’t appear to be on the track to ever becoming known as an elite left tackle. And while Waddle was generally solid at right tackle, there is still uncertainty as to how he would do as a full-time starter over the course of a 16 game schedule.
There is a difference between being comfortable and being settled. The Lions are settled at running back with Reggie Bush and Joiqe Bell. With Reiff and Waddle they are merely comfortable. In Justin Simon’s five step guide to drafting in the top ten, step one is to get your quarterback. The Lions have that in Matthew Stafford. Step two is to protect your quarterback. If they have a chance to improve in that area with a first round pick, wouldn’t they have to at least think about it?
Jake Matthews, Greg Robinson and Taylor Lewan are considered the draft’s top three offensive tackles with all three capable of being drafted in the top ten. Drafting a left tackle with elite upside and moving Reiff to right tackle improves the Lions on both sides of the line and helps build depth with Waddle. Depending on how the board falls with picks 1-9, that might be the Lions’ best case scenario.