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Taylor Decker’s career with the Detroit Lions hasn’t been an easy one. While the 2016 first-round pick splashed onto the scene with an impressive rookie season after being immediately thrust into the left tackle position, in his follow-up season, he tore his labrum causing him to miss half the season. When he returned in 2018, he didn’t quite look himself, leading some to worry that he may never be the player the Lions saw in college and that rookie season again.
But over the past two years, Decker has regained his mojo and been one of the team’s most steady and dependable players. The question is no longer whether Decker is a good player, but is he an elite one?
Previous roster previews:
Amani Oruwariye’s make-or-break season
Can Romeo Okwara elevate his game again?
Can David Blough contend for the backup job?
Can Austin Bryant stay on the field?
Can Will Harris benefit from new coaches?
It’s Da’Shawn Hand’s last chance
Expectations heading into 2020
Just before the season began, the Lions handed Decker a five-year extension (really four years plus a voidable year). The deal averaged $15 million per year in new money for Decker, which slides him right into the top 10 among left tackles in terms of average per year.
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So the expectation from Decker in 2020 was nothing short of that. He was coming off a solid 2019 year (PFF grade of 75.9—good for 20th among all offensive tackles), and with an investment in guard by Detroit with the drafting of Jonah Jackson, he had a better supporting cast around him, as well.
Actual role in 2020
2020 stats: 16 games (16 starts): 2 sacks allowed
PFF grade: 82.0 (12th out of 79 qualifying tackles)
Taylor Decker’s 2020 season was arguably the best of his career. Not only did he post his best PFF grade, but at one point in the season, he held a ridiculous streak of sackless snaps. Decker went 11 months without giving up a sack—from December 2019 to November 2020. He ended up only allowing two sacks for the entire season—both against the Carolina Panthers in Week 11.
In terms of PFF grades, Decker’s 82 overall was good for 12th among all tackles, ninth among left tackles. Unsurprisingly, it was his pass blocking that really shined last year. His 85.8 pass blocking grade was only bested by two of the best left tackles in the game: the Green Bay’s David Bakhtiari and Denver’s Garett Bolles.
Oh, and he also played in every single snap during the season. After his labrum injury, he has now started 55 of his 56 last games, and only missed a handful of snaps in those contests.
On top of that, Decker continued his role as a team leader. It was his second year as team captain, and he flexed that leadership muscle after the season was over, requesting a meeting with the Lions front office to give his opinions on the future of the team. One major sticking point for him: retaining offensive line coach Hank Fraley, which the team eventually did.
Outlook for 2021
Contract status: Signed through 2024 (2025 is a voided year)
At this point, Decker has accomplished so much in the past two years that he has to be considered one of the best left tackles in the league. He may not be top five at the position, but he’s certainly top 10, and with more seasons at his currently level of play, it’s only a matter of time before some of the post-season honors come his way.
Even with the change of regime, Decker has to be considered one of the foundational pieces for this team right now. He’s a leader, he plays an extremely important position, he plays at an elite level, and he’s been as dependable as one could realistically expect since his labrum tear.
In 2022, his cap hit will take a huge jump from $4.9 million this year—a ridiculous bargain—to $18.9 million next year. Still, that cap number is only sixth among NFL tackles, which is right about where expectations for his play are right now.
There is still another level Decker could take his game to—establishing himself as a top three player at his position—but right now the Lions are getting plenty out of their left tackle, and there’s no reason to expect that won’t continue for 2021 and beyond.