The NFL Draft Pundits have spoken…With the 13th pick in the 2011 NFL Draft the Detroit Lions select…(fill in the blank), Offensive Tackle from The University of (fill in the blank)!!! Tyron Smith? Anthony Castonzo? Gabe Carimi? Nate Solder? The Internet is chocked full of Mock Drafts that are predicting that one of these Tackles could be wearing the Honolulu Blue and Silver next season. Once again the so called experts are set on replacing long time starter, Jeff Backus. Is this really in the best interest of the Lions?
Backus has long been the villain of Detroit’s Sports talk radio hosts. In his career as the starting left Tackle he has been blamed for everything short of the collapse of the economy! It’s time to look at the facts and see what the numbers and the film actually have to say about Jeff Backus and the Detroit Lions needs in general.
The 2010 Detroit Lions started slowly, lost their starting Quarterback, but somehow still managed to finish the season strong with 4 consecutive wins. If you look at those wins, two important facts should jump out at you. First, they managed to win these games using their 2nd and 3rd string Quarterbacks! Second, and more importantly, with the exception of Minnesota, these games were against teams fighting to make the playoffs. Included in this winning streak was a game against eventual Super Bowl Champion, Green Bay! For many of the long suffering Lions fans this was the ray of hope that they have been waiting for. After years of dread, most NFL insiders consider the Lions to be a team on the rise.
That brings us to the burning question, how do the Lions take the next step and turn this once horrible franchise into a competitive, playoff caliber team? There are probably as many answers to that question as there are amateur General Managers! The Pundits have spoken…replace Jeff Backus with a young Left Tackle…maybe at least giving him the decency of moving inside to Guard instead of to the bench! I think there are more arguments against this move than for it.
According to NFL.com the Detroit Lions only gave up 27 sacks last year. Those 27 sacks rank as the 6th fewest in the NFL last year! If you take into account the sacks per pass attempt, the Lions 4.3% ranks behind only those of teams with Quarterbacks named Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Matt Ryan and Drew Brees! Granted one of those sacks, to Julius Peppers, put Mathew Stafford out for most of the season. But if you ask every Pro Bowl Tackle to play in the last 9 years, I would bet that most, if not all, of them have given up sacks to Peppers! The point is that last year, Backus and the Detroit Lions Offensive line did a great job of protecting their Quarterback.
Of course Offensive Lines have to do more than just protect the Quarterback. While the NFL has certainly become a pass happy league, teams must still be able to run the ball. Let’s take a look at the Lions O-line as it pertains to rushing the football. If we break down the Offensive Line statistics from NFL. com , we find the Lions averaging only 4 yards per carry and ranked tied for 19th in the NFL in that statistic. Of course that is below average and the pundits might look to this and say….”ahhh haaa, I told you, get rid of Backus”! Did I mention that the Super Bowl Champion, Green Bay Packers ranked 25th in the league? Yes, Green Bay is looking to improve their Offensive Line in the Draft and I think the Lions need to improve their O-line also. If we dig a little deeper we will see why I think getting rid of Backus is not the answer. If we want to improve the Lions Offensive line, which player, or players, on the Line need to be replaced? Digging further into the stats seems to have the answer! The Lions Left side of the O-line is made up of Veterans Jeff Backus and Rob Sims.If we look at running plays to the left we will see some fairly amazing statistics. The Detroit Lions had 24 running plays to the left that went for more than 10 yards. That statistic ranks 7th best in the league! The Detroit Lions converted 77% of it Power Runs, meaning 3rd or 4th down plays with 2 or less yards to go, when they ran to the left! That ranks 8th best in the league! Surprise…the Detroit Lions can run the ball when the go to the Left! Why do they rank so low in overall rushing statistics then? Its simple…look at the rest of the offensive line.! Power runs up the middle, the Lions only converted 57% of the time. That ranks 25th in the League. Power Runs to the Right, the Lions only converted 33%, which ranks them 29th! They only had 14 rushes to the right that went for more than 10 yards, a ranking of 23rd in the league. Worse yet, they had 23 negative yardage plays when the ran the ball to the right, which ranks them the 3rd worse team in the league at rushing to the right! I think the results are pretty clear, the Lions right side of the Offensive Line needs to be replaced, not the Left Tackle! Also I think it is apparent that the Lions should replace long time center Dominic Raiola! Dom is a warrior and will always give everything that he has, but he is just too small! The numbers support the fact that the real demons of the Lions Offensive Line are Stephen Peterman and Gosder Cherilus!
Lets take a look at the Prospects that the Pundits have falling to the Lions at the 13th spot in this years draft. Tyron Smith, an super athletic Tackle from USC, is a Tackle who could develop into a Pro Bowl player in time, but he has never played Left Tackle! He is also the only Tackle who anyone seems to have graded out as a top 10 talent. If you look at the last couple of years you will see that Trent Williams, Russell Okung, Jason Smith, Andre Smith and Eugene Monroe were all at one time or another not only listed as top 10 talents, but several of them were also being considered for the number one pick in the draft. What this means is that this year is a down year for offensive tackles. Do the Lions really want to use the 13th pick on a project player or someone who may end up being a better fit at Right Tackle or even Guard?
That is a lot to digest, but it certainly points to one simple fact. The left side of the Lions O-line is not the problem, the right side is. What does that means to the Lions in the upcoming draft? Teams just don’t use the 13th pick in the Draft on a Right Tackle or a Right Guard! It’s time to look elsewhere with the 13th pick or better yet, trading down.
The Lions have glaring needs at linebacker and cornerback. Between the draft and eventually free agency the Lions need to fill these holes. There is no outside linebacker, who will be available at the 13th pick, that rates being taken that high. There is only one cornerback who might be there that rates that high, Prince Amukamara from Nebraska. If he should fall to the Lions, they should smile and run to the podium with the card that contains his name. If not, they should try to trade down and gain more picks and eventually selecting the next best Linebacker or Cornerback at a draft slot that better fits that players potential. The Right Tackle and Right Guard can be addressed later in the Draft. Its really that simple.