Our friends at Baltimore Beatdown give us the inside scoop on new Lions right tackle Rick Wagner.
When the Detroit Lions immediately signed Rick Wagner at the opening of free agency, it was quickly revealed that Wagner would provide a huge upgrade in pass blocking. I’m not sure where this narrative came from, but I suspect a lot of it had to do with Pro Football Focus. The analytics website graded Wagner as the ninth-best pass blocking tackle in 2016 and just the 46th-best run blocker.
That’s obviously a huge disparity in talent, but it’s only one source’s opinion on Wagner’s play. Wagner has been a staple of the Baltimore Ravens offensive line for three straight reasons now, so who better to ask than a Ravens fan? I contacted the Editor-In-Chief of Ravens blog Baltimore Beatdown, Kyle Barber, to learn more about Wagner, and I was quite surprised by what I found.
Barber actually recognized Wagner’s biggest strength as his run blocking, saying that his skills were never on display last year because of poor play-calling via offensive coordinators Marc Trestman and—after Trestman was fired—Marty Mornhinweg.
Back in 2014, when Gary Kubiak was in charge of the offense, Wagner thrived. That year, the Ravens racked up 2,019 rushing yards at 4.5 YPC. According to Barber, that was “mainly due to the guard-tackle tandem of Marshal Yanda & Ricky Wagner.”
Barber also provided a great insight into Wagner’s personality and gave his opinion on whether the Lions got a good deal for the right tackle. His answers to all of my questions are below, in full.
1) Now that you know the terms of what Rick Wagner signed for with the Lions (five years, $47.5 million), would you have wanted the Ravens to re-sign him at that price?
For me, that's too high of a price tag for Ricky Wagner. He's a very talented right tackle, but the market inflated the numbers. I'd rather take the possibility of a third round compensatory pick instead.
2) What does Wagner do best? What kind of system (zone blocking, man, etc.) best fits his strengths?
Wagner's strengths involved the run game. Unfortunately, last season, his skills were never demonstrated. The Ravens abandoned the run game with offensive coordinator Marc Trestman, and after his firing, Marty Mornhinweg did nothing to resurrect the ground game. With Gary Kubiak's zone blocking scheme, the entire Baltimore Ravens offensive line played at their peak. Justin Forsett rushed for nearly 1,300 yards, mainly due to the guard-tackle tandem of Marshal Yanda & Ricky Wagner.
3) What does Wagner struggle with the most?
Pass-protection is Wagner's weakness; he's inconsistent in the pass-blocking game. He'll make a great block, but then allow a stunt to trip him up next play. It doesn't help the Ravens threw the second most passes, behind only the Saints offense last season.
4) What kind of personality are the Lions getting with Wagner? Is he a quiet guy? A leader in the locker room? Fun with the media?
Wagner was never outspoken, at least I never noticed. Almost all Ravens linemen are 'head-down, axe to the grindstone' workers. Marshal Yanda leads this team by example, and the other big men follow.
5) How concerned should Lions fans be of Wagner's 2015 season, which graded out poorly by Pro Football Focus' standards (52 pressures surrendered)?
The 2015 season was a wash. Injuries to everybody, including Wagner, destroyed any hopes. The starting LT, QB, RB, WR, were all injured at some point in the season; it left the offense in shambles. This is also not bringing up the defensive injuries. Looking at Wagner's full resume, it's a blip. An ugly one, but it's not how he plays. Quoting Super Troopers, "That little guy? I wouldn't worry about that little guy."