The Lions already felt good about their offensive line, and then they drafted their right tackle of the future with the seventh overall pick. Expectations are accordingly high.
"I think we can be the best (O-line in the league)," left guard Jonah Jackson said in June. "It’s just a matter of how far we want to go and how we attack each week."
Jared Goff knows a great O-line when he sees one. He played behind the sixth-best unit in the NFL in 2017 and 2018, per Pro Football Focus, and the single-best unit in 2020. Can the Lions match what the Rams had up front? Let's see.
"When I think about O-lines and the good ones that I’ve had, you never know right now," Goff said Tuesday on the Karsch & Anderson Show. "It’s so early. Week 10 ask me the same question and I may have a better answer for you."
By then, we'll know how Penei Sewell is adjusting to life at right tackle. We'll know how Halapoulivaati Vaitai is adjusting to life at right guard. We'll know whether Jackson is building on the progress he made last season, and whether Frank Ragnow and Taylor Decker are picking up where they left off. We'll know a lot that we don't know now.
On paper, we do know the potential is there.
"We obviously have a lot of faith in them and they are probably the strength of our team, but it takes weeks for them to gel, it takes weeks for them to come together and it takes time for them to get on the same page," said Goff. "And a lot of that has to do with how we're running the ball, how we're able to do different things to take a little pressure off them, how we're able to throw the ball down the field. There’s a million different things that go into it.
"But pure talent wise and pure ability up front, they’re pretty damn good and we are excited to see what they can do."
Sunday's season-opener will provide a good test. The 49ers boast a pair of terrific pass-rushers in 2019 Defensive Rookie of the Year Nick Bosa and 2018 Pro Bowler Dee Ford. Both are healthy after playing in just three combined games last season due to injuries, and both will be raring to go. Ford had 13 sacks and seven forced fumbles in his last full season, and Bosa put up nine sacks as a rookie. Sewell can expect to see plenty of the latter.
If the Lions can keep Goff on his feet this season, the next question is whether his receivers can get open. Detroit isn't exactly long on aerial playmakers. Tight end T.J. Hockenson is Goff's best weapon, and he can expect to see plenty of double coverage. Tyrell Williams is Detroit's only receiver with a proven NFL track record -- and he hasn't taken a snap since 2019. But Goff says there's more to his receiving core than meets the eye.
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"I love our receivers," he said. "There may be a notion that we don’t have any big-name guys, but the guys we have are so exciting and fun to play with and so much better than advertised. Tyrell Williams, Kalif Raymond is starting on the outside for us, Amon-Ra St. Brown, all these guys that have come in have been fun for me to play with and have so much skill. And then obviously T.J. will be a receiving weapon for us well.
"But we’re deep there, man, and the guys we’ve added now with Trinity (Benson) and KhaDarel (Hodge) kind of rounds out that room. So we feel good about it."
Benson is probably the biggest source of intrigue. The Lions traded two draft picks for him after he popped in the preseason, enamored by his 'upside as a route-runner.' Through a couple practices, Goff is already impressed with Benson's speed.
"He can run. That’s something we definitely need, is some speed, and he can provide that. And separation. Overall separation at the top of the route is something that we’ve stressed and something that he has innately. Being able to speed up and slow down and shift his weight and get in and out of routes, I think you see that a lot from him," said Goff.
We probably won't see a lot from the Lions this season. Most pundits expect them to win four or five games. Just don't bring that to Goff, who said last week the Lions expect to win the NFC North. Asked Tuesday about the outside perceptions of his new team, Goff said, "There is a part of you that likes it because you may be able to sneak up on teams."
"I’ve been on a team where you have the target on your back every game coming off the Super Bowl, so it’s definitely different than that where you can kind of sneak up on teams in some ways," he said. "But internally our expectations are just the same as any other team I’ve been on where you want to win every game one week at a time, but your goals are to win the division and then go from there in the playoffs and see what happens. Our goals here are no different. The expectations externally affect nothing we do internally or the way we think or the way we do things daily."