Lions Offensive Roster Preview: Offensive Line has some promising pieces, but overall a concern
One of the biggest concerns and questions marks heading into the 2020 season is how well the Detroit Lions’ offensive line can perform. There are two spots, in particular, that cause concern, while only one starter really inspires unwavering confidence.
Center Frank Ragnow is unquestionably the anchor and best player along the much-maligned offensive line. His impressive blend of power and athleticism means there isn’t a block he can’t make on the field. He can match up with the best of interior defenders, as proven last season when he handled elite defensive tackle Fletcher Cox in Philadelphia.
After him, the left side of the offensive line offers two young-ish players who still have time to improve and earn a longer deal keeping them in Detroit. First is left tackle Taylor Decker who is a fine run-blocker but struggled early at protecting Stafford’s blind-side last year. Thankfully, Decker improved as the season went on and looked like a reliable long-term left tackle by week 17.
Having already earned a small extension, Joe Dahl will be looking to tie down a long-term extension that places him at left guard for the foreseeable future. Dahl has steadily improved with each season he’s been in Detroit, finding his niche at guard although he could play as a swing tackle in an emergency situation.
Once you reverse directions, however, things start to get really dicey. On the right side of Ragnow, the Lions could start any combination of Tyrell Crosby, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Jonah Jackson, and Kenny Wiggins. Vaitai seems to be the favorite to start at right tackle given the money thrown his way this offseason. However, Crosby could surprise in camp and force the coaches’ hands if he can improve on his functional strength and get his footwork cleaned up.
Moving right along to right guard, this is perhaps going to be the biggest question mark for the team heading into the season. Although it will likely go to veteran Wiggins or third-round rookie Jackson, dark horse candidates such as fourth-round rookie Logan Stenberg, and veterans Oday Aboushi and Joshua Garnett could also play their way into the spot.
Wiggins probably has the upper hand at this moment as the veteran with more extensive playbook knowledge and he shouldn’t have any problems with the shortened preseason. Had a full preseason taken place, one of the rookies may have earned their way into a week one start.
Ohio State’s Jonah Jackson was a great pass blocker in college, rarely giving up sacks and pressures. His prowess as a protector of his quarterback may have quickly translated to the NFL game and Stafford would have no doubt loved to have this Buckeye in front of him.
Fourth-round rookie Stenberg might have appealed to the coaches more however with his no-nonsense attitude and nasty demeanor on the field. Stenberg was known in college as a run-blocking phenom and tough competitor in a hard-nosed SEC conference. That demeanor, combined with his tough run-blocking may have won over the coaches of a team that was trying to vastly improve the run-game.
With eight spots tied up in the above guys mentioned (minus Garnett), that leaves one more spot open to someone, maybe two. Looking over the team, the Lions have no one else who can fill in at center should Ragnow go down for any amount of time. Beau Benzschawel may finally make the team as the guy who’s natural position is at center and could take over for Ragnow with the smallest learning curve.
Benzschawel would be in for a fight with guys such as Garnett, Russell Bodine, Oday Aboushi, and others. Aboushi and Garnett especially could potentially fight their way in as the ninth or 10th guy on the roster along the offensive line given their former draft capital and potential for the former and his knowledge of the Lions offense in the latter’s case.
53-man roster prediction: Taylor Decker, Joe Dahl, Frank Ragnow, Kenny Wiggins,
Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Jonah Jackson, Logan Stenberg, Tyrell Crosby, Beau Benzcshawel
Be sure to come back next week to catch the second and final part of the Detroit Lions roster preview of the defense and special teams to see who makes the cut and who just misses out. Be sure to drop who you think will make the roster and who might be the biggest dark-horse candidate to make the roster this year.