If I were the GM of the Lions my number one position I would target in the draft is offensive tackle. This is not a popular view amongst Lions fans, but neither was drafting Matthew Stafford last year. So before rushing to judgement, follow the logic.
The Lions made a huge investment in Matthew Stafford last year, and that investment finished the season on injured reserve. Young quarterbacks require better pass protection than veterans because they don’t have enough experience for their reads to be second nature yet. They take longer to make decisions which is why defenses blitz young quarterbacks so much. Look at some of the more successful young quarterbacks and they usually have an upper echelon left tackle protecting them.
- Carson Palmer had Levi Jones
- Mark Sanchez has D’Brickashaw Ferguson
- Joe Flacco has Jared Gaither and Michael Oher
- Jay Cutler had Ryan Clady with the Broncos
- Philip Rivers has Marcus McNeill
- Tony Romo had Flozell Adams
- Aaron Rogers has Chad Clifton
- Matt Ryan has Sam Baker
Jeff Backus is a better left tackle than most think, but he is not going to be around for the next 10 years. Elite left tackles are rarely found outside of the first round, and the recently or soon to be retired Hall of Fame bound left tackles Orlando Pace, Jonathan Ogden and Walter Jones were all top 10 picks. The Lions can move Backus to right tackle to compete with Gosder Cherilus and he can back up all of the offensive line positions except center.
The other advantage of having an elite left tackle is it helps out the running game. Five quarterbacks were drafted in the first round the last two years, three of them had winning records and made the playoffs as rookies Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco and Mark Sanchez all have elite left tackles and top 10 rushing attacks. Stafford and Josh Freeman do not have that luxury.
Lastly, here is a well researched look at why drafting a left tackle (specifically Russell Okung) is the best move for the Lions and why offensive tackles are a safer pick than defensive tackles provided by www.walterfootball.com.
There are only two tackles that I would consider with the second overall pick:
- Russell Okung, Oklahoma State – Great athleticism, size and intangibles he is the best left tackle to come out in the last three years. He struggles some blocking downfield on screens and in the running game, but that is his only noticeable weakness. Okung is athletic and technically sound, he is a more natural pass blocker than run blocker.
- Trent Williams, Oklahoma – Prototypical size, powerful run blocker, high motor and has great upside . Limited experience as a left tackle, shorter arms than preferred. Williams is more of a mauler and road grater type.
If the Lions manage to trade down into the middle to late portion of the first round, this is the second tier of tackles. I have doubts about three of the four tackles that would be on the board. I rank them as follows:
- Charles Brown, USC - Brown is a converted tight end with excellent athleticism. He is probably the second best pass blocker behind Okung, but like Okung is not an elite run blocker yet. He has limited experience at left tackle, so he is a bit of a projection but has good upside.
- Bryan Bulaga, Iowa - Technically sound, well coached and has a high motor. He has short arms and is not an elite athlete. I see a Jeff Backus clone, safe but doesn’t have huge upside.
- Bruce Campbell, Maryland - Campbell is a freak of nature athletically with great upper body strength and long arms. He has all the talent in the world but has not lived up to it. Boom or bust player.
- Anthony Davis, Rutgers - Good athleticism and prototypical size, but he has immaturity and weight issues. He needs more technique work and is also a boom or bust type prospect.
The next tier of tackles could start coming off the board in the second through fourth rounds. Very few of these players could step in at left tackle on day one and be an improvement over Backus.
- Jared Veldheer, Hillsdale – Small school player with big time athleticism. He dominated in practice in the Texas vs. The Nation Bowl and has high character and motor. He has shorter arms than preferred and it’s a big jump in competition from Hillsdale to the NFL.
- Vladimir Ducasse, Massachusetts – Good athlete with size and big frame. Very raw in technique due to limited experience playing football. Has good upside but is a project.
- Ed Wang, Virginia Tech – Wang is a very raw player who is also a converted tight end. He is a great athlete but needs technique work and needs to be more aggressive on the field. Has a high ceiling, but has a ways to go to reach it.
- Jason Fox, Miami – Fox is a technicianwith a bit of an injury history. He is very consistent and is a high motor guy, but he doesn’t have the athleticism to be an elite left tackle.
- Kyle Calloway, Iowa – Calloway has a big frame, decent athleticism and great technique. He was primarily a right tackle in college, but could potentially make the switch to left tackle.
- Roger Saffold, Indiana – Saffold has better athleticism than the previous two on the list but he struggles too much with speed rushers for my liking. Maybe with more technique work he can improve, but he has pretty good technique as it is.
- Selvish Capers, West Virginia – Has the athletic tools to succeed as a left tackle, but limited experience playing in a three point stance and inconsistent footwork are his main weaknesses. Could end up as a guard.
This is a deep and talented draft, but there are only two prospects with no glaring weaknesses or areas of concern. This highlights the difficulty of finding an elite left tackle, which is why the Lions should take advantage of the opportunity. There are 10-15 defensive tackles that will be able to step in and play right away in this draft, there are about six left tackles that can do the same. It’s a much safer pick, much harder to fill and is worth the investment because it helps Stafford realize his potential.