The Detroit Lions were a surprise playoff team in 2016. Now, they’re looking to build on that season, and one of the driving forces behind that is general manager Bob Quinn. After spending years in New England, he knew that protecting the No. 1 asset of the team, Matthew Stafford, was the top priority.
In his first draft as the team’s general manager, Quinn, with the 16th overall pick, selected Detroit’s future left tackle, Taylor Decker from Ohio State. Later in the third round, he selected a big physical C/G Graham Glasgow, and after that, another offensive lineman, Joe Dahl.
Decker is exactly the type of college tackle you look to draft. Still, most rookies struggle early on and then catch up to the speed as the season goes on, and Decker’s rookie season followed that path. He struggled early, then played much better starting halfway through the season. His potential is sky high for the left tackle. Unfortunately, last week Decker had shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum, and the rehab is four to six months. It’s a bummer for Decker and the Lions. Where do the Lions turn to find another left tackle?
There are three types of roster building processes in the NFL. One, and this is probably most common, the front office (GM, scouts) acquires the players and the coaches coach them. There isn’t much coordination between the two. The second is the front office chooses the players with input from the coaches on the type of player who fits their scheme. You’d think this is how it should always work, but it doesn’t. Third, the head coach is the GM, and he does whatever he pleases. The Lions are built using the second approach.
The latest example of this harmony between front office and coaching staff occurred Thursday when the Lions traded a sixth-round pick to the Rams for former second overall pick tackle/guard Greg Robinson. The Lions looked at their roster, decided they didn’t have guys ready to roll now, and traded for a player who perfectly fit their system.
On the most recent episode of my podcast, Block Em Up, we discussed the last great college offensive tackle, but we haven’t seen many in recent history, minus Robinson. He was the last great college tackle. His Auburn film is as impressive as it gets. Greg is a big, strong, physical, freak athlete and finished people nonstop in college.
Auburn ran an extremely run-heavy offense, and I’ve written about how offenses that don’t mimic NFL styles can hurt offensive tackles transitioning to the league. This is where Robinson falls right now: uber-talented but technically behind in the league.
Duke Manyweather, offensive line consultant and my most trusted scout on offensive linemen, summarized Robinson in 2016: “Even though Robinson possesses rare athletic ability and physically dominating traits, he has struggled mightily to perform anywhere close to realizing his great potential. You cannot be a dominant or even good player on the offensive line relying solely on what you were born with. At some point, gifts need to be developed into tools of the craft.”
So how and what system does Robinson need to maximize his physical traits?
An offense that demands linemen jump set and has limited, but potent technique options for blockers. This is why the Lions are a perfect fit for Robinson. The Lions demand their entire offensive line jump sets defenders in pass protection. It fits perfectly into Robinson’s strong suit. He can use his quickness and strength to overwhelm defenders at the line of scrimmage in the pass game. He doesn’t have to be patient and play in space. He can attack.
The Lions offensive line philosophy is simple and precise. There aren’t lots of drills, and the drills they do have are concise with a purpose. In my best season, 2013 in Kansas City, I played under the same system. I can’t rave about it enough. There is no overcoaching; no useless techniques taught. This will all benefit Robinson in the both the run and pass game.
A dominate run blocker like Robinson was in college doesn’t just lose the ability in the NFL. He needs some fine-tuning. Detroit will get the most out of him.
Detroit is in win-now mode. The team almost won the division last year and spent the offseason shoring up the parts that needed attention. When Taylor Decker went down with a shoulder injury, it was a big blow to the team. But with the addition of Robinson, the Lions should be able to maximize his abilities and not feel the pain of losing Decker as much.
Adding Robinson is also looking toward the future. When Decker returns, Robinson can slide inside to LG. Now you have two first-round picks on the left side. I love it!