Larry Warford quietly entering career-defining year


After exceeding rookie expectations, Warford again must prove himself with the team’s increased competition along the offensive line.

Larry Warford overachieved as a rare third-round draft gem of former general manager Martin Mayhew. In his rookie season, Warford played all 16 games at right guard, looking like a seasoned pro. He outperformed the rest of the team’s offensive lineman in 2013. For those who forgot, the Lions’ offensive line was actually quite good during the 2013 season. They had a 1,000-yard-rusher in Reggie Bush, along with 1,000 all-purpose yards from complementary-back, Joique Bell. Pro Football Focus graded the group out as a top-5 offensive line that season.

LaAdrian Waddle (66) like Larry Warford, played well in the 2013 season. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports /

The sudden rebirth was truly spearheaded by Warford’s play at right guard. He was dominant in the run game and much better than anticipated in pass-protection. With young tackles, Riley Reiff and LaAdrian Waddle both playing well, it looked as if the Lions had both rebuilt and improved their offensive line in basically two years. Even center Dominic Raiola, who most had written off, delivered probably his best season as a Lion. The team itself finished 7-9, costing former coach Jim Schwartz his job, but most believed the young core was in place for many years to come.

That wasn’t the case despite a 2014 Playoff appearance, the offensive line has gotten worse each of the past two seasons.  Martin Mayhew tried to strike gold again the following year, but 2014 third-round pick, center Travis Swanson, struggled mightily his first season taking over for Raiola.  Reiff’s production dipped and Waddle’s inability to stay healthy cost him his roster spot. Warford was much less effective and fought injuries himself. He missed a total of six games the past two seasons combined, after starting all 16 his first year.

Many wanted the Lions to select Jonathan Cooper fifth overall in the 2013 NFL Draft. Photo Credit: USA Today Sports Images /

It’s hard to find any fault in Warford, especially when you consider the Cardinals selected the underachieving guard, Jonathon Cooper, just two spots after the Lions took Ziggy Ansah in the first round of that same draft. Third-round picks generally are depth guys that, if you’re lucky, will turn into good starters down the line. Warford has essentially gone the opposite direction career-wise, but he isn’t entirely to blame for it.

When looking for a reason why the production fell off, the most obvious answer is the schematic shift. Offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi took over the offense after the 2013 season and he preferred a more zone-heavy blocking scheme. Former coordinator Scott Linehan had been using a power-blocking scheme that was much better suited to Warford’s strengths. The offense just never clicked under Lombardi and that’s why he was fired at midseason. Quarterbacks coach, Jim Bob Cooter, took over the reigns and the entire offense clicked. Cooter tweaked the scheme to better fit the personnel, and the team went 6-2 down the stretch.

Former Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi’s scheme wasn’t a good fit for the team’s personnel, and the offense struggled. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports /

Going forward, Cooter should be able to build on the second-half success of the offense, having an entire off-season to tinker with things. Warford, in all likelihood, will get back to his physically dominant self in 2016, but there’s no guarantee.  He will be playing for a long-term contract so he should be as motivated as ever. Current Lions GM, Bob Quinn, added significant depth at all offensive line positions both in the draft and free agency. He signed guard/tackle Geoff Schwartz and selected Taylor Decker, Graham Glasgow and Joe Dahl in the draft.

I don’t believe Quinn is anticipating the team will let Warford go when his contract is up, but I do think he wanted to create a situation where someone like Warford will have to perform to keep his starting job. That is the case with every position but offensive line seemed to be his biggest priority this off-season. Despite all of the additions, Warford is probably the best and most talented offensive lineman on the team. With Cooter changing the scheme and with better talent around him, Warford is in position to play like it’s 2013.