Detroit Lions: This position switch was a rare win in 2019

Detroit Lions (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
Detroit Lions (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images) /

The Detroit Lions didn’t find much success in 2019, posting a 3-12-1 record. But one of the positional moves they made last year certainly was a win.

For the Detroit Lions, the 2019 regular season ended with fans questioning whether general manager Bob Quinn and head coach Matt Patricia should keep their jobs. Despite the down year, there were still some positives to consider. And one of the biggest was the improved play of Frank Ragnow.

The Lions’ first round selection in 2018 out of Arkansas, Ragnow started his career in the Motor City playing at left guard. After an inconsistent rookie season, Detroit opted to transition their young offensive lineman to center. And that moved proved to be fruitful.

Ragnow emerged as Detroit’s top offensive lineman in his second season. Pro Football Focus ranked him the sixth-best player at his position in 2019, anchoring an offensive line that nearly cracked PFF’s top-ten O-Line rankings by year’s end.

Here’s what Steve Palazzolo wrote on the football analytics website about Ragnow’s play at center after spending his rookie season at guard.

"“Ragnow’s move to center was one of the best stories in a disappointing season in Detroit as he finishes the regular season with the No. 6 grade among the league’s centers. Ragnow struggled to a 61.9 grade as a rookie in 2018 while trying to play left guard, but he returned to his more natural position where he dominated in the SEC for multiple years on his way to first round draft status.”"

Despite the analytic accolades, it’s difficult to proclaim the improved play along the offensive line considering back and hip injuries forced longtime starting quarterback Matthew Stafford to miss eight games last season. Stafford snapped a starting streak of 136 consecutive games stretching all the way back to 2010.

The Lions offensive line allowed 41.0 sacks in 2018. That sack number jumped to 43.0 sacks this past season, but Stafford was sacked just 18 times through the team’s first eight contests. Backup quarterback Jeff Driskel and rookie passer David Blough finished out the season and their inexperience did the O-line little to no favors.

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Through his first three seasons in Detroit, general manager Bob Quinn spent two first round draft picks on left tackle Taylor Decker and center Frank Ragnow. Quinn also signed high-priced free agents in Pro Bowl right guard T.J. Lang and right tackle Rick Wagner in 2017. And despite the injury suffered by Matthew Stafford, that heavy investment made into the Detroit Lions offensive line is just now starting to pay off. It’s a positional group to watch in 2020.