We’re all guilty of it; voicing our quick takes or assigning grades to an NFL team’s draft class immediately after the names have been called. As Detroit Lions fans know all too well, it’s much more prudent to wait a few years to fully evaluate a group of draft picks when it’s clearer what kind of players they are.
So what better time to revisit the Lions’ 2018 selections? For all of their draft disappointments over the last decade, the Lions brought in six relatively stable players three years ago. Five of those six picks are still on the roster, with two of them firmly entrenched as starters.
The 2018 draft was the third for former general manager Bob Quinn with the Lions and the first for former head coach Matt Patricia. This group of selections was marked by an obvious effort to improve the running game; the Lions finished last in both total rushing yards and yards per attempt the year before.
This draft class hasn’t been able to help the Lions avoid three straight last-place finishes in the NFC North, but it has produced some important players for the team. Here is a re-evaluation of the group, starting with a player who has become one of the best in the league at his position…
Selection: Round 1 / 20th overall
Career Stats: 45 games, 45 starts
Contract status: Signed through 2026
Ragnow was something of a surprise selection at 20th overall, with many hoping that the Lions would select a defensive playmaker or even a running back. In hindsight, this was a very good move and one that has yielded a key piece of the team’s strongest position group.
Ragnow was primarily a center at the University of Arkansas but was thrust into a Day 1 starting role at guard for Detroit, thanks to the presence of incumbent center Graham Glasgow. This did not go particularly well in year one, with Ragnow clearly playing out of position and his talents not being maximized.
Those two swapped positions to begin 2019, and Ragnow has not looked back since. He has started all 29 games that he has played over the past two years at center and has solidified the interior of the Lions’ interior offensive front. He has also emerged as a key leader for the team and was recognized for his rapid ascension with his first Pro Bowl nod in 2020.
While his excellent play and impressive development haven’t helped the Lions too much in the win column, rookie general manager Brad Holmes recognized Ragnow’s importance immediately. He made a contract extension for him as one of his first orders of business after taking the job with the Lions.
In giving Ragnow a four-year, $54 million extension earlier this month, Holmes made him the highest-paid center in the NFL in terms of per year average salary. The Lions’ previous regime was not willing to pay top dollar to retain Glasgow, despite him being one of the team’s steadiest performers. In not overthinking this move, the Lions’ new shot-callers have already shown that they value retaining the team’s best young players.
Ragnow figures to secure the Lions’ strongest unit this season and for years to come. Along with the addition of heralded rookie tackle Penei Sewell, the consistency of left tackle Taylor Decker and the growth of guard Jonah Jackson, their offensive line should be one of the league’s best in 2021.
The Lions’ previous regime made way too many poor choices, resulting in their ouster part-way through the 2020 season. Drafting Ragnow wasn’t one of them.