Analysis: Bolstering roster’s biggest strength might be Lions’ best move in draft

Detroit News

As the days tick down to the NFL Draft, and the Detroit Lions prepare to add a new set of building blocks to the foundation being laid by the franchise’s new regime, we’ve been weighing the fits of different prospects at the top of the class.

We’ve discussed the quarterbacks, the starting point for any successful NFL team. And while the Lions don’t appear to be in the immediate market after acquiring Jared Goff, the 26-year-old former No. 1 pick who has four years remaining on his contract, the possibility can’t be ignored.

Maybe it’s for show, but the Lions have been projecting interest in this crop of quarterbacks. General manager Brad Holmes and coach Dan Campbell have made in-person appearances at the pro days of Zach Wilson and Trey Lance, to name a couple.

And Goff, despite two Pro Bowls and a Super Bowl appearance on his resume, is coming off two down years with a contract that gives him one, maybe two seasons to prove he can get his career back on track. If there’s a quarterback on the board that the Lions love at No. 7, who could blame them for pulling the trigger on the future of the franchise?

In the event there’s a run on quarterbacks ahead of Detroit, the top alternative, based on both value and need, has long appeared to be snagging a pass-catcher at that spot. That could be one of the trio of top receivers — LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase or Alabama’s DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle — or walking mismatch, tight end Kyle Pitts. Any of them would immediately improve Detroit’s offense and provide a much-needed long-term piece.

A third option for Detroit is being the first team to draft a defensive player, addressing a unit coming off a historically awful performance a season ago. In that scenario, Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons seems like the most likely fit.

But if the Lions stick with the seventh pick, the one path we’ve yet to discuss in this space as the pro day circuit winds down is bolstering the team’s most-stable unit: its offensive line.

Early in their tenures, both Holmes and Campbell have spoke highly of the group they’ve inherited, with last year’s starting five all set to return. That unit is led by Pro Bowl center Frank Ragnow and left tackle Taylor Decker, fresh off his best season and a sizeable contract extension. Additionally, none of the projected starting five is older than 27 years old.

But any good NFL decision-maker understands the key to roster-building success is to never be content and always look for ways to improve. With that in mind, if Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell is available when the Lions are on the clock, there’s an easy argument to be made that picking him is the best choice for the franchise.

More: Lions potentially land starting nickel corner, signing Corn Elder

Sewell, who is taking part in Oregon’s pro day Friday after opting out of the 2020 season, won’t turn 21 until September. But he’s been dominating the NCAA long before he could legally order a beer.

A top recruit, his talent was so transcendent he started at left tackle for the Ducks as a true freshman. Limited to six games that year because of an ankle injury, he returned in 2019 and was beyond dominant, both as a run blocker and pass protector. For his efforts he earned unanimous All-American honors and became the first sophomore to win the Outland Trophy as the nation’s best offensive lineman.

Sewell is massive, checking in at 6-foot-6, 325 pounds. He plays with a nasty streak, but is also athletic and light on his feet, evident by the fact he allowed a single sack across two seasons and none during his All-American campaign.

At Oregon, Sewell replaced Tyrell Crosby. In Detroit, Sewell would be doing the same, sending Crosby back to the swing tackle role he capably manned the three seasons before last as he heads into the final year of his rookie contract.

But imagine the Lions plugging Sewell’s skill set at right tackle. Finally, after years of fans clamoring for a dominant offensive line, the Lions would have the makings of league’s premier unit, one that could be the franchise’s calling card for years to come.

With that could come the equally desired ground game success that has eluded Detroit since Barry Sanders hung them up, while giving whichever quarterback is under center when this roster’s rebuild turns the corner, the coveted ability to operate comfortably in the pocket.

Like we said, if Sewell somehow slides to the Lions, it’s an easy argument.

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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