Why Lions’ Taylor Decker may struggle early as rookie starter

ALLEN PARK —  Taking an offensive tackle high in the draft has long been considered one of the safest picks an NFL team can make.

If the lineman doesn’t work out as a tackle, the theory goes, he always can move inside to guard and have a long career there.

While that adage generally holds true today, NFL teams have found it increasingly difficult to rely on rookies to play the premium left tackle position, a fate the Detroit Lions will tempt this year with first-round pick Taylor Decker expected to start as Matthew Stafford’s blindside protector.

Twenty offensive linemen have gone in the first round of the three drafts prior to this year, and teams have taken varying approaches with their development.

Just three, Ereck Flowers, the 10th overall pick by the New York Giants last year, and top-10 2014 selections Jake Matthews of the Atlanta Falcons and Greg Robinson of the then St. Louis Rams, have been their team’s primary starter at left tackle as a rookie.

Some, like Washington’s Brandon Scherff, the first offensive linemen taken last year, were converted immediately to guard, while others like Andrus Peat of the New Orleans Saints and D.J. Humphries of the Arizona Cardinals were given time to acquaint themselves to the NFL, either as a backup or at other positions along the offensive line.

Scherff played at a generally high level at guard for a Washington team that made the playoffs last year, but reviews on rookies who’ve stayed at tackle have been mixed.

Pro Football Focus ranked Flowers, who was forced into the starting lineup at left tackle after Will Beatty suffered a season-ending injury, last out of 76 qualifying offensive
tackles.

Donovan Smith, the second pick of the second round, started all 16 games at left tackle last year for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and didn’t fare much better (72nd).

In 2014, Robinson, the second pick of the draft who moved to left tackle midway through the season after an injury to Jake Long, and Matthews, the sixth pick of the draft, endured similar struggles.

Reasons why offensive tackles struggle as rookies abound.

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Posted by Tribune News Services

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