SideLion Report reassesses the Detroit Lions’ 2016 NFL draft class, three years later. The good, the bad, and the long snapper.
We’re all guilty of it, regardless of what NFL team you root for. At the conclusion of each NFL draft, Detroit Lions fans and their counterparts instantaneously become expert draft analysts and critics. Today, we’re taking a different approach.
The 2016 draft was general manager Bob Quinn’s first with the team after taking over the role in January of that year. He focused intently on re-building the trenches, after the Lions took a pummeling up front for the better part of 2015. Overall, it’s worked fairly well, as their first five picks, four of them linemen, remain with the team and will be looking to play significant roles this season.
It’s often said that it takes three years to effectively judge a team’s draft class, so what better time to re-examine the Lions’ 2016 haul as they ready for the 2019 season? What’s been a hit? What was a miss? What were they thinking with that pick? Here’s a look back, starting with their first selection:
Selected: First round / pick #16
School: Ohio State
Position: Left tackle
Career statistics: 40 games, 40 starts, 1 TD reception
Current status: Lions’ starting left tackle
Simply put, the Lions’ offensive line was in bad shape at the terminus of the 2015 season. A group of high draft selections by then recently deposed general manager Martin Mayhew – tackle Riley Reiff, guards Larry Warford and Laken Tomlinson and center Travis Swanson – had not developed the desired chemistry. Quinn made it his clear mission to rebuild the offensive front with his own hand-picked selections.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford was sacked 44 times and knocked down incessantly in 2015, and he clearly needed a new blindside protector to jump start the line’s renovation. The Lions took Decker in the middle of round one, fresh off of an excellent season with the Buckeyes, helping them win a national title.
Decker enjoyed a fine rookie season, starting every game at left tackle and helping reduce the amount of punishment on Stafford. The Lions looked like they had found their anchor up front. Then they hit a snag.
Decker suffered an offseason shoulder injury which cost him half of the 2017 season. When he came back, he seemed to have lost all of the momentum that he had gained the year prior, and he struggled. 2018 was a return to respectability, as he played every offensive snap, and gained a solid mark of 70.4 according to Pro Football Focus’ (PFF) player grading system.
As a first round selection, Decker was eligible to have his fifth-year option picked up for 2020, which the Lions did this past April. Considering the performance of his backups in the Lions’ first preseason game last week, that was likely a wise choice.
Left tackle is such a critical position in the NFL, and the Lions have a good, not great one in Decker. Perhaps year four is when it all comes together for him, and he helps the Lions field the kind of offensive line that Quinn envisioned when he started with the team. If not, the Lions may struggle again in 2019.