Billy Hardiman-USA TODAY Sports
ESPN projects the Lions offensive line to struggle in pass protection, but their projection model is inherently flawed.
Normally, I don’t really like to point out flawed media and give it more attention than it deserves, but sometimes it’s important to get ahead of things before they spin out of control.
On Friday, ESPN released their 2021 offensive line projections based on pass protection. Given that the Detroit Lions have one of the better-looking starting five on their offensive line, you may expect them to be listed up or near the top of the list. Instead, it’s the complete opposite.
They rank 29th, or third worst.
But before you grab your pitchfork and torch, and head up to Bristol, it’s important to look at the methodology of this list, because it turns out it’s completely flawed in a way that specifically punished the Lions.
Per the article, if a player missed one or both of the previous two seasons—including rookies—they were automatically assigned a “below-average” pass block win rate (which is the metric they used in this projection). So that already means that Penei Sewell and Jonah Jackson are deemed below average. Additionally, players that did not meet their qualifying threshold (presumably based on snaps), had their pass block win rate regressed towards that below-average score. In this case, the article specifically mentions that Halapoulivaati Vaitai did not qualify, meaning his score was automatically impacted as well.
Here’s the full explanation of the methods, via the ESPN article:
To achieve this we used a regression model that considers every projected starter’s individual pass block win rate over the past two seasons. Players who did not play in either or both seasons (including rookies) were assigned a below-average PBWR for their position, and anyone who failed to meet the qualifying threshold had their win rate regressed toward that below-average target.
So now the Lions have two “below-average” starters and one that regressed to below-average simply because of the projection’s model. It has nothing to do with the players themselves. The fact that Frank Ragnow ranked seventh in their metric and Taylor Decker 23rd wasn’t enough to overcome the inherent flaws in this methodology.
That being said, the projections do bring up an important point. Many simply assume that Jonah Jackson will improve in Year 2 and that Penei Sewell will be great right out of the box. Neither of those are guaranteed, and there are plenty of examples of high draft picks fizzling out on the offensive line.
Still, this seems like extremely poor methodology to just give Penei Sewell the same score as any other rookie or second-year player. There should have been at least some consideration to draft position weighing on the scores. Additionally, the projections don’t account for Vaitai moving to guard full time or starting the year healthy or any other difficult-to-grab metrics.
So, in other words, don’t sweat this projection. ESPN’s methods don’t make much sense, even if they do bring up valid questions about Detroit’s young players.