The first thing any new general manager, head coach or coordinator does after taking a job with a team is dive into the roster and the game film. What do they have to work with? That's what Detroit Lions new offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn is doing.
Lynn treaded cautiously last Wednesday discussing the quarterback position, since the reported trade involving Matthew Stafford, Jared Goff and draft picks can't be finalized until the new league year March 17, and NFL rules don't allow coaches to discuss trades before they are official.
Lynn did talk about running back D'Andre Swift, tight end T.J. Hockenson and the receiver position. He also had some glowing comments about Detroit's offensive line.
"Right now I think that's our deepest unit," Lynn said of the offensive line room. "We can use a little more depth at tackle, but I like the guys that can play inside. (Taylor) Decker is one of the best left tackles in the game. The center Frank (Ragnow), like you mentioned, outstanding football player.
"I met with Jonah Jackson (last Wednesday), he's a young, up-and-coming stud. I'm very pleased with what I've seen so far with the offensive line."
I'm particularly interested in his comment about the depth at tackle.
The Lions signed veteran Halapoulivaati Vaitai in free agency last offseason to be their right tackle, but a foot injury suffered late in training camp forced him to miss the first two games of the season. Tyrell Crosby came in and played pretty well at tackle those first couple weeks, so when Vaitai came back Week 3, Detroit decided to move him to guard, so he and Crosby could be on the field together and Detroit could play their best five upfront.
In all, Vaitai missed six games this past season due to injury. In the 10 games he played, Vaitai played guard for every snap in five games, right tackle every snap in four games, and split between right guard and right tackle Week 6.
If the Lions plan to move him to right guard permanently, that means they have Crosby returning at tackle for the final year of his contract, along with Matt Nelson (exclusive rights free agent) and Dan Skipper. That's a little light at tackle, even though Nelson showed some huge upside this past season in his first opportunity to play tackle after switching over from the defensive side of the ball.
If the Lions see Vaitai as a guard moving forward, it solidifies four spots upfront with the only question being right tackle. Crosby has certainly shown himself capable of starting and playing well there, but Detroit could opt to help fill depth and promote competition by signing a tackle in free agency or potentially drafting a youngster. It doesn't seem out of the realm of possibility that Detroit could do that with the No. 7 overall pick in April's NFL Draft, if one of the best tackles falls to them.
Ragnow is a Pro Bowl player already, Decker is a top 12 left tackle, and Jackson looks to be at the very least a solid starter for years to come. Vaitai battled injury all year and should come back better in 2021 when healthy, either at guard or tackle.
That leaves very few lingering question marks heading into 2021 upfront for Detroit, so Lynn should feel good about what he's inherited and where that unit is headed.