Detroit Lions OL considered the best run blocking unit in the NFL

(Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
(Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images) /

The Detroit Lions offensive line has been run blocking at an elite level, and it finally paid off last Sunday in Jacksonville.

It was rookie running back D’Andre Swift anchoring the Detroit Lions backfield in Sunday’s dominant road win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.  Swift galloped for 116 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns behind what Pro Football Focus (PFF) calls the leagues’ top run-blocking unit.

It’s been years in the making; it doesn’t even feel right to type, but here we are finally praising the Detroit Lions offensive line.  This after the organization whiffed on Laken Tomlinson, a first-round selection, Rick Wagner, a big-time free agent signing and allowing Graham Glasgow to walk in free agency.

It seems General Manager Bob Quinn continues to re-tool the Detroit offensive line.  The organization spent a small fortune on a versatile free agent in Halapoulivaati Vaitai and drafted a pair of guards (Jonah Jackson, Logan Stenberg) and extended left tackle Taylor Decker.

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Quinn also used a premium pick to draft Swift 35th overall in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft to grow into its feature back running behind this revamped offensive line.

According to PFF, the Detroit Lions have earned a league-best 80.3 overall run-blocking grade collectively.   The group is led by Taylor Decker, who ranks ninth overall at his position with a grade of 80.2, but his run blocking mark of 81 ranks eleventh overall.  Center Frank Ragnow is well on his way to becoming an All-Pro with a stellar run blocking mark of 83.8 and an overall mark of 79.3 rank him as the second-best blocking center in all of football.

Both Tyrell Crosby and Jonah Jackson are better pass-blockers than run blockers.  If the pair can improve as run blockers, this Detroit Lions offensive line will quickly find themselves as one of the most balanced units, and perhaps even the leagues’ top unit.

Joe Dahl has been forced to miss time due to injury; he’s a reliable guard who grades out better than Jackson and Vaitai.  The Lions will have decisions to make moving forward with the emergence of Crosby at right tackle.  Vaitai has struggled early on as a Lion and analytically but has graded out a touch better than Jackson.

Jackson is proving to be a much better pass-blocker (70.8), but Vaitai a significantly better run-blocker (68.5) at this point.

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It leaves Patricia and Bevell with plenty to ponder.  Do you choose to play the rookie guard or the high priced free agent acquisition? I’d play the rookie, but will Quinn and Patricia be willing to face the criticism that will follow by sitting Vaitai? Unlikely.