The Lions are only an offseason removed from inking offensive lineman Halapoulivaati Vaitai to a multi-year deal (a five-year contract worth $45 million) to play right tackle, and they might already be moving the 6-foot-6, 320-pounder from tackle to guard on a full-time basis.
Prior to signing with Detroit, Vaitai had never started a full season's worth of games, and the trend continued in 2020. He started in 10 games -- tied with his 2017 campaign with the Philadelphia Eagles for his most starts in a single season.
Yet, he battled the injury bug along the way, and was largely unproductive in his first season in the Motor City.
He performed in such a subpar fashion at the tackle position that he made eight of his 10 starts at right guard.
Lions head coach Dan Campbell addressed the possibility of Vaitai going into the 2021 season as a guard during a video conference Monday.
"Until we get our eyes on him (Vaitai) and see where we feel he fits best, it’s hard to just put that in stone. But, I will say this -- and we’ve talked to him about this -- we’re a little intrigued by moving him inside to guard,” Campbell told reporters. “That does intrigue us, and so we may -- as a starting point -- work there and see where we’re at. We've got enough guys on this roster to where between he and (Tyrell) Crosby and (Matt) Nelson, and you kind of let them fight it out a little bit, just (to) see what comes out and who fits best where."
According to Pro Football Focus, Vaitai produced solid results at guard down the stretch of the season, with a positive grade from PFF in five of his last six games at the position.
As for the rest of the offensive line, the Lions should be encouraged by guard Jonah Jackson's productive rookie season and the consistent play of left tackle Taylor Decker and center Frank Ragnow from a year ago.
Now, if Vaitai does indeed move over to guard to start the season, it leaves a void at right tackle.
Currently, the internal options at the position are Tyrell Crosby, Matt Nelson and Dan Skipper. Crosby, predominantly a swing tackle in past seasons, would seem to benefit the most from the potential positional change, as he started 11 games at RT in 2020. He's also logged 18 total starts at the position since entering the league in 2018.
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Meanwhile, Detroit general manager Brad Holmes could also choose to upgrade the offensive linemen group via this year's draft.
If the organization goes in that direction with its first-round pick (No. 7 overall), it could feasibly select Oregon's Penei Sewell. Sewell is viewed by many pundits and fans alike as the best tackle in the 2021 draft class.
And, if Sewell is off the board already, Northwestern's Rashawn Slater, deemed by some draft analysts as the best tackle in the class, wouldn't be a bad option, either.
The draft is less than a month away, as it kicks off Thursday, April 29, from Cleveland, Ohio.
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