Heading into the season, the Lions were seemingly in fine shape up front, but the unit finished just south of mediocre in 2014, giving up 47 sacks and springing the running game for just 3.6 yards per carry with Reggie Bush and Joique Bell. The veterans got pooped. Dominic Raiola has already been let go for being a poor center, as well as an unpleasant person. Nine-year left guard Rob Sims may be next.
What would be left are a bunch of youngsters entering, at most, their fourth season in the NFL, and that’s fine. The Dallas Cowboys’ top-notch unit was exactly the same way last season, outside of right tackle Doug Free. Travis Swanson (2014) and Larry Warford (2013) appear to be hits. If the Lions can find something other than an undrafted rookie to plug into the right tackle spot for next season, the line could be in great shape for years to come, and that would help Matthew Stafford and the offense much more than trying to give him another splashy playmaker.
We didn’t need to do much research to confirm that conclusion, but the numbers are still pretty stark when you see them in print. The Raiders picked eight of the 135 players with the fastest Combine 40 times over the last nine NFL Drafts, twice the expected rate based on all 32 teams and the most out of any team since 2006. The most surprising part might be that only three were first-round picks (Michael Huff, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Darren McFadden).
Only three of those eight were on the roster last year (McFadden, Tyvon Branch and Chimidi Chekwa). McFadden is an unrestricted free agent this year, and few expect him to return. Chekwa, a low-cost special teams guy, could return as a restricted free agent. Branch is the only one under contract for 2015. However, he’s seen action in a grand total of five games over the last two seasons and is owed almost $20 million over the next three years of his contract.
It’s possible that Oakland will have none of its original speedsters on the roster when training camp starts this summer.