Why the Detroit Lions Must Consider Drafting a Tackle in Round 1

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Why the Detroit Lions Must Consider Drafting a Tackle in Round 1
David J. Phillip/Associated Press

 One of the more under-explored possibilities for the Detroit Lions in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft is the option of selecting an offensive tackle.

It’s not the biggest need on the team, not by a long shot. Riley Reiff, a former first-rounder himself, capably handled his business in his first season as the starting left tackle.

Undrafted rookie LaAdrian Waddle astonished with his above-average play at right tackle. Despite playing just half the season, Waddle ranked as the 32nd overall tackle in the league at Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Reiff ranked three spots lower while playing the entire season. 

There is even quality depth with Corey Hilliard, who has some starting experience in his four years in Detroit. 

Yet, that fairly impressive collection should not preclude general manager Martin Mayhew and the Lions from considering an offensive tackle at No. 10 overall.

Mayhew himself has acknowledged this potential during his media session at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine, as relayed by Tim Twentyman of DetroitLions.com:

By the same token, if you can upgrade that position, I think you have to look into that.

It's certainly an interesting concept to contemplate. 

If either Auburn's Greg Robinson or Jake Matthews of Texas A&M somehow fall to the 10th pick, that would almost certainly make either one the best player available, regardless of position.

It's unlikely either will, but it's not out of the question. Here's one mock draft scenario in which it can happen:

  1. Houston Texans: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
  2. St. Louis Rams: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
  3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
  4. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
  5. Oakland Raiders: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
  6. Atlanta Falcons: Greg Robinson, T, Auburn
  7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
  8. Minnesota Vikings: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
  9. Buffalo Bills: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M

 In this case, Jake Matthews jumps off the board as the best player left. 

 The Lions would have to take him here. 

While both Reiff and Waddle impressed, neither young tackle has the high-end potential of the latest progeny of football's premier family.

Matthews is the son of Bruce Matthews, who is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame after being one of the greatest linemen in NFL history. His cousin is Clay Matthews, one of the top-end pass rushers he'll be tasked with blocking. 

While having great genes is no guarantee, it certainly doesn't hurt. 

By picking Matthews, Detroit would have loads of options in molding the offensive line. He's played both right and left tackle at Texas A&M.

Waddle was a left tackle at Texas Tech, though he thrived on the right side as a Lions rookie. Reiff's scouting reports coming out of Iowa almost universally praised his versatility to play either tackle spot. Check out these from KFFL and Walter Football from the 2012 draft season. 

With center Dominic Raiola on a one-year deal (h/t Pro Football Talk) and left guard Rob Sims also entering the last year of his contract, the only line position set long-term is Larry Warford at right guard.

Reiff offers potential to slide inside to left guard. Or the Lions could wage a camp battle between Reiff and Waddle for the starting spot opposite Matthews.

The odd man out would hold solid trade value with teams starving for quality offensive linemen. As Pete Prisco of CBS opined:

Adding an elite-caliber offensive tackle would give the Lions a valuable commodity. They would have the rare opportunity to be sellers in a seller's market. Detroit could parlay that surplus talent into an upgrade at cornerback or defensive tackle, or pick up a nice pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. 

The scenario of picking the lineman at No. 10 is only a viable option if the available tackle is Robinson or Matthews. 

Those two sit fourth and fifth, respectively, in Matt Miller's Post-Combine Big Board

The next tackle on Miller's list is Michigan's Taylor Lewan, down at 15th overall. While Lewan does rank ninth in the current ratings at CBS, his overall value at No. 10 is questionable. 

In addition, if both Matthews and Robinson are gone, it pushes a highly-ranked player at a position of greater need down to the Lions. That could be a wide receiver like Mike Evans, tight end Eric Ebron or even outside linebacker Anthony Barr. 

It's pretty unlikely that Mayhew will be presented with this option. 

The four mock drafts at CBS all have Matthews and Robinson gone before No. 10. One of them even has Lewan off the board as well. Both are also gone in the latest mocks from Rotoworld and RealGM

Then there's this tidbit from Lance Zierlein of The Sideline View:

Yet, it's still a scenario the Lions must take into account. If the best player available is somehow one of the two top offensive tackles, Detroit should not hesitate to make that pick. 

Otherwise, it's a much better decision for Mayhew and Co. to look to bolster another position with such a premium pick. 

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