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Detroit Lions: Roster Impact of Drafting Two Guards

Who is Jonah Jackson?

With the 75th pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, the Detroit Lions selected interior offensive lineman Jonah Jackson. Jackson transferred from Rutgers to Ohio State for his final year and was very solid for the Buckeyes. He also might have been one of the best players on Rutgers while he was there. Do you know how hard it is to look good playing at Rutgers?

Jackson is more technician than a mauler. But that isn’t to say he doesn’t have a nose for physicality in the run game. His strength allows him to move people in the run game as well as hold a stiff anchor in pass protection. Some of his best blocks at Ohio State came when sealing off interior defenders for the running back to hit the B-gap.

It makes sense why the Lions felt like they needed to move up in the draft to select him. The Lions didn’t stop addressing offensive line with Jackson, however.

Who is Logan Stenberg?

With the 121st pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, the Detroit Lions selected Logan Stenberg. This move came after a trade back from 109 to acquire another late-round selection. Stenberg, though, in contrast with Jackson, is all mauler. His intention on every play is to drive his opponent’s face into the dirt. He’s a true throwback-type player who wants to make his opponent go back to the sideline and quit. Stenberg’s peers voted him as the most-disliked player to play against.

That attitude does come with certain issues, however. He racked up 14 penalties in 2019, good for second-most among all FBS-level players.

Stenberg is also an unproven commodity in terms of pass protection. Per PFF, Stenberg logged 601 snaps in pass protection and allowed zero sacks. However, Kentucky loved running the ball last season. This meant even when they passed the ball, Stenberg wasn’t tasked with meeting a true pass rush from defenders who sat back expecting a run to come their way. So while the stat is encouraging, it is largely misleading and won’t directly translate to on-field success at the NFL level.

Infusion of Interior O-Line Talent

After losing Graham Glasgow in free agency, the Detroit Lions needed to find a solution to their gaping hole at right guard. The Lions also utilized an almost unheard of guard rotation last season. A third guard, Kenny Wiggins, would play a series in place of Glasgow at right guard. Then Wiggins would play a series for starting left guard Joe Dahl. This signaled that the Lions were unhappy with their guard play at both positions. They wanted a change.

Joe Dahl’s starting job was already in jeopardy, coming into the offseason. And now there was a hole at right guard to fill. So, the Lions drafted two guards. Jackson and Stenberg will step in and compete right away for those starting spots with Dahl. Two starting spots are up for grabs for three likely candidates: Dahl, Jackson, and Stenberg. Wiggins could have an outside shot to start, being the first guy off the bench in the rotation last season.

Jackson has the versatility to play both the left and right sides. Stenberg, however, likely will only be trusted as a right guard. His strengths as a blocker are more valued on the right side of the offensive line. If Dahl beats out Stenberg, expect Jackson to start at right guard. But if Stenberg wins a starting job, Jackson should end up as the team’s starting left guard.

Drafting Stenberg and Jackson likely put roster spots for a few guys at risk as well. Oday Aboushi, Beau Benzschawel, Russell Bodine, and Joshua Garnett could all be fighting to be a part of the roster. Longshots to make the roster Caleb Benenoch and Casey Tucker almost assuredly will be on their way out during the preseason.

Change in Offensive Philosphy

The NFL is cyclical. The current landscape of the NFL is fast-paced and pass-happy. More receivers on the field mean more defensive backs being used by the opponent. The Detroit Lions seem to be starting a movement to bring back ’90’s football to take advantage of and overpower the smaller defenders utilized more heavily in today’s game.

Matt Patricia’s vision of hard-nosed football couldn’t come to fruition with the state of the offensive line when he took over. Bob Quinn drafted more athletic, zone-blocking scheme types of linemen for former head coach Jim Caldwell. But since hiring Matt Patricia, they’ve added to the line several maulers that fit Patricia’s philosophy.

Frank Ragnow, the Lions’ 2018 first-round selection, was a road-grader at Arkansas. His athleticism was unmatched in his draft class at his position.

Then, the Lions cut bait with starting right tackle Rick Wagner in favor of signing a younger Halapoulivaati Vaitai. Vaitai seems to be an instant upgrade over Wagner. Both are a bit sloppy in pass protection, however “Big V” is the far superior run blocker.

Now, with the additions of Jackson and Stenberg at guard, it seems clear the Lions are moving from the zone-blocking scheme in favor of a power/gap-style attack. The Lions’ selection of D’Andre Swift further shows their desire to switch things up.

The Lions struggled to close out games last season. They held a 4th-quarter lead in each of their first 12 games last season. However, they only came away with three wins. A power run game that can get first downs late in games and chew up the clock would have been a perfect recipe to finish those close contests. And that seems to be the direction the Lions are headed next season.

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