Hope rides on the back of the offensive line
The most improved position for the Detroit Lions is the offensive line. Whether we’re talking about offense or defense, it all starts in the trenches. While the Lions defensive line still needs more work, their offensive counterparts have improved enough to be considered a strength.
Now admittedly, with no actual offseason work together on the field, building the chemistry that makes the most productive lines superior will be a challenge. A challenge not to be taken lightly, but the first and most important part of the equation for building a solid offensive line is to actually have good linemen.
That’s something the Lions have more of than they have had in years. That being said, can this unit get deeper and more talented? I think the answer is certainly ‘yes’, but it is talented enough right now to unlock the potential of the Lions offense, given a little cohesiveness.
I admit that I wanted Detroit to draft former Louisiana Ragin’ Cajun Robert Hunt, who many scouts project as a dominant guard in the NFL. However, I also don’t miss him quite as much given the twofer the Lions scored in his absence.
Former Ohio State guard Jonah Jackson and Logan Stenberg of Kentucky now give the Lions a very talented, young nucleus in the middle of the offensive line. Joe Dahl is considered the favorite going into camp to start at left guard, but I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if both Jackson and Stenberg are starting by seasons end.
Meanwhile, Frank Ragnow is quickly becoming one of the better centers in the NFL. The addition of Halapoulivaati Vaitai at right tackle gives the Lions an above-average run blocker to team with one of the young guards. Taylor Decker had an outstanding rookie campaign but hasn’t been able to return to that level of play since the shoulder injury he suffered in his second season. He still has enough talent to right the ship, he just needs to do it.
The possibilities of the Lions offense truly ride on the backs of the offensive line, just like any other team. But unlike most seasons the Lions seem to finally have the horses needed to get the job done.
The ability of the offensive line to build chemistry, protect Matthew Stafford, and open up holes for the ground game is perhaps the biggest key to the Lions’ success next season. It becomes harder for Matthew to get injured if he stays on his feet and the passing game will only get better when opposing defenses have to actually pay attention to the run.
The offensive line is one of the most overlooked positions in all of sports, but while the defense appears to still need more help before it is truly ready to play like contenders, the offensive line could very well give Matthew Stafford and his revised backfield an opportunity to content in the NFC North.