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O'HARA: Lions expect return on o-line investment

One of these days – much sooner than later, head coach Jim Caldwell expects – the Detroit Lions will get a return on the heavy investment they've made to build their offensive line.

No team in the NFC North has spent as much draft capital on its offensive line as the Lions.

In fact, it's not even close.

Three of the line's projected opening-day starters were drafted by the Lions in the first round, and the other two were third-round picks.

First-round starters and their draft years are left tackle Taylor Decker (2016), left guard Laken Tomlinson (2015) and right tackle Riley Reiff (2012). Third-round starters are right guard Larry Warford (2013) and center Travis Swanson (2014).

Their overall draft positions are as follows: Decker 16th, Reiff 23rd, Tomlinson 28th, Warford 65th, Swanson 76th. Combined, their average draft position is 41.6, or the 10th pick in the second round.

There is no exact timetable for predicting when a player or an entire unit will mature and mesh together.

Whatever the time frame, the offensive line will have to play to its lofty combined draft status to improve a running game that ranked last in the league in 2015 and do a better job of protecting quarterback Matthew Stafford, who was sacked 44 times in 2015 and 45 in 2014.

Caldwell sees the payoff coming, through maturity and experience.

"Absolutely, think you will," Caldwell said at his press conference Monday. "Just look around the league, and take a look at what benefits you typically get from that type of emphasis in a particular area.

"It's also an area where it doesn't happen overnight, particularly upfront, but I do think without question we're improving."

Bob Quinn targeted the line for an upgrade in his first draft as general manager. He drafted three offensive linemen -- Decker in the first round out of Ohio State, center Graham Glasgow of Michigan in the third, and guard Joe Dahl of Washington State in the fifth.

"It takes a special breed to play that position," Quinn said in a recent interview with "The offensive line and defensive lines are really the heartbeat of your team."

Quinn also drafted two defensive linemen – A'Shawn Robinson in the second round and Anthony Zettel in the sixth.

Here is how the Lions have built their offensive line compared to the rest of the NFC North:

  • The Lions and Packers are the only teams in the North that have drafted all five projected opening-day starters.
  • The Lions are the only team in the division that has drafted three of the five starters in the first round. The Packers (RT Bryan Bulaga), Bears (LG Kyle Long) and Vikings (LT Matt Kalil) have drafted one first-round starter each. The Vikings also signed former Bengals' first-rounder Andre Smith to start at RT.
  • The Lions' average pick position of 41.6 overall, or the 10th pick in the second round is at least a full round lower than the other three North teams. The other three: Vikings (80.8, or 17th pick in the third round), Packers (98.6, or the third compensatory pick in the third round), and Bears (119.8, or 21st in the fourth round).

Note: Vikings starting RT Alex Boone entered the NFL as an undrafted rookie. The average draft position for the Vikings is computed on four drafted players. The Bears lost starting center Hroniss Grasu, a 2015 third-rouind pick, for the season because of an injury. Replacement Ted Larsen was a sixth-round pick. The Bears' average draft position with Grasu as starter would be 29th in the third round, almost a full round lower than with Larsen.

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