Detroit Lions: Will the rebuild begin in the trenches?
With the NFL draft just over a week away, the speculation about which prospect will become the Detroit Lions‘ top selection is at an all-time high. And with so many quarterbacks expected to be drafted within the top five picks, the Lions should have a plethora of very talented players to choose from.
The Lions’ biggest team need going into the annual selection event is undoubtedly at wide receiver. The talent drop from last year’s unit to the mismatched group of free-agent wideouts assembled by new general manager Brad Holmes this offseason is massive. Detroit will likely enter the 2021 NFL regular season with the lowest-rated receiver corps in the entire league.
So, is it any wonder why so many draftniks have the Lions selecting one of the perceived top wide receiver prospects with the seventh overall selection? Certainly, the addition of Alabama’s DeVonta Smith or Jaylen Waddle, LSU’s Ja’marr Chase, or Florida tight end Kyle Pitts would give new Lions quarterback, Jared Goff, at least one exciting playmaker to work with.
But make no mistake, after trading away longtime quarterback Matthew Stafford and allowing wide receiver Kenny Golladay and other starters from last year’s roster to leave this offseason, the Lions are in the midst of a rebuild, not a mere retooling. And the new brass in Detroit has their eyes set for long-term success beyond 2021.
With that kind of mindset in the front office, one former Detroit passer believes the Motor City might just pass up a flashy skill player with their top pick and look to address their needs in the trenches first.
Here’s what football analyst Dan Orlovsky told the media about what he thinks the Lions will do at No. 7 during a conference call on Tuesday according to Tim Twentyman of DetroitLions.com.
"“I think [the Lions] would want to impact both sides of the football big wise (OL & DL) before they ever start to entertain kind of the pretty part of football, which is the skill position guys.”"
Over the past five years, the Lions have chosen to use a first-round selection on an offensive lineman twice. Those payers being starting left tackle Taylor Decker in 2016 and center Frank Ragnow in 2018. Detroit subsequently also completely ignored the O-line in the draft in both 2017 and 2019.
The Lions’ previous regime used a third-round selection on Ohio State guard Jonah Jackson last year,. And the rookie ended up being a 16-game starter spending time playing at both guard spots in his first year.
Yet, there are some major questions remaining about the other two positions along the Lions’ right-side of their offensive line. Tyrell Crosby started 11 games primarily at right tackle for Detroit in 2020. Oday Aboushi, who signed with the Los Angeles Chargers as a free agent this offseason, started eight games.
The wildcard in the mix is the Lions’ own pricey free-agent signing from last season, Halapoulivaati Vaitai. After inking a massive five-year, $45 million contract, the player known as “Big V” started an unremarkable 10 games last season while struggling with a foot injury that eventually landed him on injured reserve.
After playing mostly at right guard in his first year in Motown, new head coach Dan Campbell recently mentioned the possibility of keeping Vaitai at guard, leaving Crosby and the recently re-signed Matt Nelson to potentially tackle the right tackle position.
Yet, the NFL draft next week may throw the Lions a curveball. With their collective vision looking beyond 2021, the new brass in Detroit could decide there’s an offensive lineman on the board too good to pass up with their top pick. And that their rebuild should, in fact, start in the trenches.
There’s a strong possibility that both Oregon’s Penei Sewell and Northwestern’s Rashawn Slater, the two top offensive line prospects in the draft, will be available when the Lions are on the clock. Could one of them be the missing piece that catapults the Lions O-line to becoming the envy of the entire NFL?