Kevin Zeitler: What the Lions are getting in their new guard

USA Today

The Detroit Lions have a new starting right guard. It’s a name that should be familiar to fans: Kevin Zeitler.

The 12-year NFL veteran has proven to be one of the most reliable right guards in the league across his lengthy career. Zeitler signed a one-year deal in Detroit after spending the last three years with the Baltimore Ravens. He’s coming off his first Pro Bowl in 2023, though he was an alternate at least two other times.

What are the Lions getting in Zeitler?

The biggest thing that stands out for Zeitler is his consistency. Going back to the start of his career in Cincinnati and through his time in Baltimore, Zeitler has been unwaveringly reliable. The Kevin Zeitler you get in Week 2 is the same one you get in Week 16 every year.

A first-round pick out of Wisconsin in the 2012 NFL draft, Zeitler started right away on a Bengals team that made the playoffs all four years he was there. Now 34, Zeitler had an NFL-ready game right out of the box.

It was that consistency on some very good Bengals teams to start his career that led the Browns to sign Zeitler to a then-record $60 million free agent contract.

When I covered him during his two seasons in Cleveland, Zeitler was almost boring to watch. He was going to be a very good heads-up pass protector with great technique and outstanding foot quickness to reset himself. He was going to be effective as a run blocker at sealing open a hole and squaring up his mark. He was going to pick up second-level rushes and line twists pretty well. He was going to get an occasional penalty and allow a QB pressure or two by oversetting initially.

Even on a winless Browns team in 2017, Zeitler really only had two “bad” games: his first meeting with his old Bengals team and against Jacksonville while questionable with a thumb injury and swinging door Shon Coleman as his right tackle.

These are a sampling of what I wrote about Zeitler in-season that year:

If there’s one valid criticism of Zeitler, it’s that he doesn’t have great range in the run game. He can pull just fine, but he’s not a guy who is going to explode to the second level and lock up a linebacker. That held true in both New York and Baltimore.

While Zeitler isn’t a phone booth player by any means, the less he has to show range beyond pulling one gap over, the better. A quick review of some Ravens game tape from 2023 shows almost exactly the same player I watched in Cleveland in 2018. He maybe lost a half-step of quickness off the snap, but beyond that it’s the same Kevin Zeitler, just with less hair.

About the transactions, since it’s fair game to question why a pretty good player is now on his fifth NFL team…

The Browns broke the bank to sign him as a free agent, making him the highest-paid guard in the league at the time. Two years later, a new coaching staff with a more zone-oriented blocking scheme found Wyatt Teller on the cheap and dealt him away for desperately needed pass-rushing help in Olivier Vernon in a trade that was adjacent to the Odell Beckham Jr. blockbuster.

The Giants opted to cut him as a cap casualty after two seasons, a move Giants fans still bemoan in part because New York used the tens of millions in cap relief to sign Kenny Golladay as a free agent that year.

He played just fine in Baltimore, but his contract expired. Nothing nefarious here; they’re going younger and cheaper.

In his introductory press conference, Zeitler indicated he was brought in to play right guard. There is no reason to doubt his words. That means Graham Glasgow, also brought back this offseason, shifts to the left guard hole opened with Jonah Jackson’s high-priced departure.

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