I’ve always been a fan of unsung heroes, whether that be old players, mediocre players, players who play in unceremonious positions, etc. In recent years, there’s been a touch more respect given, but they still deserve more honors. An incredibly big player in Detroit shocking the world with a >.500 record was their offensive line. A frontline five that went into the season thought of as pretty good, and ended up being surprisingly stronger than first assumed. Let’s get into the who’s, the why’s, and the what(ever I find interesting).
A New Crown Jewell
The young gun of this unit, Penei Sewell was a semi-divisive pick in NFL circles (that I noticed) that split mainly into two groups. Those who wanted a more flashy pick, like DeVonta Smith, and those who believed it a good move to continue strengthening the trenches. I was more in the second group, but regardless: Sewell has been the right choice. After getting solid time in his rookie season filling in for an injured Taylor Decker, Penei Sewell had the complete opposite of a sophomore slump. According to Pro Football Focus, he was the ninth best tackle in football this past regular season. Being only 22 years old and already having a spot in the top 10 means that Sewell’s peak could be as dominant as any offensive tackle ever. I’m not kidding, not even in the slightest. He’s absolutely on the right track.
Frank Ragnow is the older of Detroit’s interior big two. He was also a first round pick, something both of these main players have in common, but not quite as high as Sewell. Ragnow was the fifth best center in the NFL last season, again according to Pro Football Focus. Most recently, he was selected to his second Pro Bowl. In terms of sacks allowed, Ragnow let only one slip over his 1,074. It’s always frustrated me how difficult it is to find more in-depth stats about offensive linemen, but there’s not enough interest for anyone to put the effort in (that I’ve found).
Dan Skipper is my little sidebar for this group of underrated stars. Back in Week Two (I know, feels like years ago.), the Lions were struggling mightily in terms of line depth without starting guards Jonah Jackson (finger), Halapoulivaati Vaitai (back surgery), and top backup Tommy Kraemer. This forced the teams’ hand to turn to Skipper, a career journeyman tackle who, in his six years in the league, had never started a season. Not only that, but Skipper was moved to guard, a position he hadn’t played since his freshman year at Arkansas. After getting cut nearly 20 times in his career, Dan Skipper was making a start with every possible external factor against him. What happened? Detroit ran for 191 yards in the game and Skipper was spectacular. An unlikely hero, the perfect summary of the teams’ role in the league this past year.
These players and more led Detroit to one of the top offenses in the league, as well as a few of the strongest rushing performances of the season for the league. This line helped break the franchise record for rushing touchdowns in a season (Congrats Jamaal!), previously held by HOFer and the greatest running back of all time Barry Sanders. Other than two really rough games (six points over two games in the middle of that horrible five-game losing streak), this young offense showed its possible potent power, and the Lions’ offensive line displayed that they’re a major cog in the Motor City machine.