The offensive line is expected to be dominant in 2022, but often overlooked starting left-tackle Taylor Decker could be the key to the Detroit Lions‘ success this season. Decker, 29, isn’t exactly a household name across the league, but the veteran tackle is vital to not only protecting the blind side, but he’s a reliable run blocker.
An NFL career is like the autobahn; it just flies. Every year, rookies and free agents are trying to unseat current rostered players across the league. Last season, the Detroit Lions drafted Penei Sewell, who projects to be a franchise-caliber left tackle out of Oregon. The Lions were able to calm the storm by immediately plugging him in at right tackle until Decker suffered an injury. With Sewell struggling to adapt to the right side last summer during the preseason, Detroit slid him over to his true position in relief of Decker, and the rookie quickly became comfortable.
Once Decker was set to return to the lineup mid-season, Sewell had plenty of reps to get back into the swing of things. Once moved back to the right side, Sewell quickly excelled. Part of the reason is due to the mentorship of veteran right guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai. The two gelled well and worked together nicely on Detroit’s right side.
Unfortunately, the Detroit Lions were unable to deploy their entire starting offensive line last season due to injury. Still, barring a setback in the final preseason game, this group will be ready to rock come week one of the regular season.
Detroit Lions left tackle Taylor Decker is the unsung hero of the offensive line.
Decker, a six-year veteran, seems to be often overlooked these days in Detroit with the emergence of Sewell, 22, along with the star center Frank Ragnow dominating inside. But let’s not forget starting left guard Jonah Jackson, who earned his first Pro Bowl bid for his production last season.
I expect this group to be a top-five group with the potential of becoming the best offensive line in the NFL next season. One key factor will be if all five can remain healthy.
Recently, Taylor Decker explained why the starting five can be so successful this season, pointing to their friendship off the field.
“The number one thing would be it’s fun because we’re all really close,” Decker said. “Really good friends on the field and off the field, so we have a good rapport. So, to be able to go out there and play and execute together and see all the work that we’re putting in together as a group, it looked pretty good. It’s a small sample size — 10 plays. Like I said, it’s good that we were able to go out there and play how we want to play in those 10 plays.”
In Detroit’s first preseason game this summer, the Lions’ offense hummed right down the field with Jared Goff delivering the football comfortably and on time. Goff threw for 47-yards and wasn’t pressured or touched. Detroit’s running game followed the stout offensive line, and D’Andre Swift capped off a perfect opening drive with a nine-yard touchdown run.
Last year over 529 offensive snaps, Decker earned a solid 75.5 overall grade, according to Pro Football Focus (PFF). Decker’s most impressive mark came as a pass-blocker earning an elite 84.0 mark over 298 dropbacks. That 84.0 mark was good for 14th in the NFL among all eligible offensive linemen, tackles, guards, and centers. I wouldn’t call Decker a poor run blocker, but that is one area he needs to improve this season. Decker earned a grade of 66.8 as a run blocker. Frank Ragnow came in as the 8th best lineman overall in limited duty last season, making an incredible 86.7 overall mark, including a run blocking mark of 90.2.
Early this spring, PFF came out with their preseason offensive line ranking. According to writer Ben Linsey, Decker didn’t fare nearly as well as expected in this ranking. PFF ranked Decker as the 22nd-best tackle heading into the 2022 season. Decker came in Linsey’s tier seven as “Good Starters.” In comparison, Sewell came in 19th in a tier better titled “Young Tackles Trending In The Right Direction.” I Expect Decker to outperform this prediction.
The Detroit Lions’ offensive line play will be able to mask Goff’s troubles by maintaining a clean pocket and elite rushing attack. Detroit’s offense should be an above-average group in 2022 if everything goes as planned.