<
>

Taylor Decker's footwork should help him be a first-round pick, possibly for Lions

While Taylor Decker said he prefers playing left tackle, he could be forced to learn the right-tackle position if he's drafted by the Lions. Andrew Weber/USA TODAY Sports

Taylor Decker is a first-round prospect in April’s NFL draft. It’s another sport, though, that helped him get to where he is now.

The former Ohio State offensive lineman was also a high school basketball player and at 6-foot-7 often played in the post. That helped him when it came to football. It helped refine his footwork and understand his body even better from having to post up defenders and guard opposing big men in the post.

“Just being able to move your feet,” Decker said. “Not that defending in basketball is like pass protection, but you are mirroring a guy to be able to react to what another guy is doing. Foot speed, foot movement.

“Then when you’re posting up a little bit, you have to get leverage on people. Get him out of the way and boxing out. I do think that helped me a lot in my progression as an offensive lineman, for sure.”

In years past, college basketball players have made the transition to the NFL -- often at tight end. But Decker stopped playing basketball after high school and focused on football, where he became one of the best offensive tackles in college football at Ohio State last season. His size -- 6-foot-7, 310 pounds -- is imposing and makes him an attractive candidate for the Lions at No. 16.

The Lions need an offensive tackle. That’s been known since the middle of the 2015 season, when the team struggled to protect quarterback Matthew Stafford for the second straight season. LaAdrian Waddle couldn’t stay healthy. Cornelius Lucas didn’t yet have the needed consistency. Michael Ola played decently the second half of last season, but Detroit needed an upgrade.

Free agency appeared to be the first target, but a combination of talent level and escalating contracts kept general manager Bob Quinn out of the market. This leaves the draft, and the Lions could easily take an offensive tackle at No. 16.

If Decker ended up with the Lions, left tackle could be in his future as Riley Reiff is in the final year of his contract and there’s no guarantee Detroit will bring him back on a long-term deal. So Decker -- or whomever the Lions draft at tackle -- could be the left tackle of the future and the right tackle of the present.

One of the players the franchise is likely to target is Decker, who has the size and athleticism to play immediately. One of the issues with his height is not having the potential flexibility to keep up with shorter, faster defenders. But his height and arm length could help him there because he can keep defenders off his body easier with his reach, arms and hands. He also knows the transition from left tackle, where he has played the majority of his career, to right tackle will take time.

And that's where his high school basketball experience helps out.

“My footwork, while it sounds like it shouldn’t be too difficult, it’s awkward,” Decker said. "It’s like writing with your left hand. So it just takes reps and reps. Not that it’s something that’s not attainable. It’s just a level of comfort and I think I want to be a left tackle.”

But Decker also wants to be an immediate NFL starter, and if a team is investing a first-round pick in him it will want him on the field right away. And with Detroit, that will likely mean on the right side.

“I don’t think anybody would want to come in and be like, ‘Oh, I’ll ride the bench for a couple years.’ I want to come in immediately. I want to be a starter,” Decker said. “I don’t want to just be a player that we can survive with him. I want to provide value for a team and be an asset and not a guy who’s kind of dead weight.

“That’s a huge goal to have. It’s going to be very difficult to do. It’s something I’m going to pursue and chase and hopefully accomplish.”