2017 Position Breakdown: Offensive line

Posted Jan 8, 2018

Tim Twentyman provides the good, the bad, the MVP and more on the offensive line's 2017 performance.

The good: The Detroit Lions' offense finished the season seventh in points scored (25.6), 13th overall (337.8) and sixth in passing (261.4). The offensive line plays a part in those numbers, just as is does in Detroit ranking last (76.3) in rushing.

Individually, the Lions got some pretty good performances upfront, even if the unit as a whole was inconsistent throughout the year, mainly due to injury.

Rick Wagner finished as the fifth highest graded right tackle by Pro Football Focus. T.J. Lang was eighth among right guards, and second-year lineman Graham Glasgow was eighth among centers.

The bad: Let’s start with the run game, which was the worst in football. Sure, the running backs and the scheme play a part here too, but the guys upfront have to own some of the responsibility as well. Lions general manager Bob Quinn already stated this week he plans to add to the running back group this offseason. The team also relieved offensive line coach Ron Prince of his duties.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford was sacked 47 times this season. The 47 sacks allowed by the Lions were the seventh most in the NFL this season. All those don’t fall on the offensive line, obviously, but again, they have to own up to the part they played in that number. Overall, Detroit finished 18th in STATS, INC.’s Protection Index, which factors in a number of different categories to come up with an overall pass-blocking grade for every offensive line.

Then there’s the injuries. Losing left tackle Taylor Decker (shoulder) for half the season certainly stung. Both Lang and Wagner battled through injuries most of the season, as did center Travis Swanson.

Key stat: The Lions had 10 different starting offensive line combinations in 16 games this season, the most in the NFL.

Free agents: The only free agent the Lions have upfront is center Travis Swanson, who is an unrestricted free agent.

It will be interesting to see what the Lions decide to do with him. Glasgow excelled when moved to center this season. It’s certainly a possibility the Lions move on from Swanson, shift Glasgow to center permanently, and look to fill the only vacant opening on their offensive line at left guard.

Draft: There is good high-end talent in this draft with some guys that can come in and help right away.

If 2017 proved anything in Detroit, it’s that having good depth along the offensive line is a must. The only real opening the Lions are expected to have entering next season is either at left guard or center, depending on what happens with Swanson and Glasgow.

Third-year guard Joe Dahl will be in the mix there, but don’t be surprised if a veteran free agent or rookie draft pick comes in and competes as well.

Notre Dame’s Quenton Nelson might be the most NFL-ready lineman in this draft. He’s a mauler on the interior, and the Lions drafting at 20 is better value for drafting the guard spot. Ohio State’s Billy Price could also be a first-round pick as an interior offensive lineman. 

Most of the consensus when it comes to the tackle position is that Connor Williams (Texas), Mike McGlinchey (Notre Dame), Orlando Brown (Oklahoma), Martinas Rankin (Mississippi State) and Chukwuma Okorafor (Western Michigan) are the best available. 

MVP: Graham Glasgow’s ability to play both guard and center proved to be invaluable for a second straight season. He was the only starter heading into the season that played in all 16 games and made every start. In fact, he played in every snap for the Lions this season, the only player to do so.

Availability is oftentimes the best ability, and Glasgow was certainly that for the Lions upfront this season.

Most improved: Glasgow gets the rare double-dip here. He really did a nice job transforming his body from year one to year two to better handle the rigors of playing in the interior in the NFL. He’s a smart and versatile player inside, and is only going to keep getting better.

Quotable: “I think we had 10 different offensive line starting combinations, which is a lot,” Quinn said. “So, I think it’s a credit to the players that they battled through. They played multiple positions and a lot of guys played when they were hurt.

“You see what guys are on (the injury report), and what guys are missing practice, and what guys are going out there and playing on Sunday. So, I think it’s a credit to our offensive line, the players, that they went out there and battled as well as they did.”