Lions roster preview: Kevin Zeitler fits perfectly in Lions OL (2024)

Our 2024 Detroit LIons roster preview series rolls on with another key member of the best position group on the roster—newly acquired right guard Kevin Zeitler.

Entering year 13, the former Wisconsin Badger has been of the most consistent interior offensive linemen in the entire NFL. Since entering the league in 2012 after being drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals, Zeitler has also spent two years with the Cleveland Browns, two with the New York Giants, and the most recent three years with the Baltimore Ravens.

Previous previews: RB David Montgomery, WR Kalif Raymond, TE Sam LaPorta, TE James Mitchell, LT Taylor Decker, DE Aidan Hutchinson, DT DJ Reader, DT Alim McNeill, LB Alex Anzalone, DB Brian Branch, and S Ifeatu Melifonwu.

Kevin Zeitler

Expectations for 2023

It should go without saying, but being an ironman type of player on the offensive line is a really big deal. Remaining healthy when playing a position that is inherently violent takes a ton of dedication, and even more toughness.

Not only has Zeitler been able to stay on the field a lot, (do me a favor and knock on wood if you’re reading this) but he has never played less than 92% of his team’s snaps in any given year. Combine that with the fact that he is one of the better guards in the league when it comes to pass protection, and you begin to understand how Zeitler has had such a long and successful career.

Heading into 2023, Zeitler was entrenched as the starting right guard for the Ravens, situated between Pro-Bowl center Tyler Linderbaum and right tackle Morgan Moses. Expectations were high for the offense as a whole, as Ravens offensive coordinator Todd Monken hoped to unleash attack centered around MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson.

For the duration of Zeitler’s career, he has been an above average run blocker. He is athletic enough to pull and work in space at times, and his grip-strength and power at the point of attack is where he really shines.

However, when it comes to pass-protection, the man is almost an immovable object. I watched quite a bit of film from Zeitler’s 2023 season in Baltimore, and I don’t think I can remember one instance where he was blown off the ball in a one-on-one. His anchor is incredibly strong against opposing defender’s bull-rush, and his ability to communicate with his fellow offensive linemen is a huge asset when defenses run stunts and games.

Actual role in 2023

Note: Stats are for regular season and postseason combined

17 games (17 starts): 1,102 offensive snaps (97%)
Stats (per PFF) - 3 sacks allowed, 1 quarterback hit, 17 quarterback hurries, 21 pressures
PFF offensive grade: 71.6 (15th of 83 guards that played at least 20% of offensive snaps)
PFF run blocking grade: 62.4 (27th of 83)
PFF pass blocking grade: 82.3 (2nd of 84)

Zeitler was the same consistent technician at right guard as he’s been throughout the rest of his career. In fact, his incredible pass-blocking grade in ‘23 actually took a 0.2 dip from 2022. That’s right, Zeitler’s pass-blocking grade per PFF in 2022 was a crispy 82.5. Similar to other people in different professions or walks of life—I feel like this is what Zeitler was born to do.

Despite Zeitler being so good for so long, he had never been selected to a Pro Bowl prior to 2023. He proved to be a key contributor for a Ravens offense that had its way with a lot of teams during the course of the season, with one of those games being that Week 7 whooping they put on the Lions in Baltimore.

If you are looking for film analysis of Zeitler, you can watch this breakdown from the free agency period earlier in the offseason. I did a deep dive into Zeitler’s 2023 season, and how he will fit right in with the rest of the Lions’ elite offensive line.

Outlook for 2024

I am sure if you asked Zeitler how he feels about playing between first team All-Pro right tackle Penei Sewell and second team All-Pro center Frank Ragnow, the 13-year veteran would have a difficult time not smiling. Having been around for so long, Zeitler has been a part of some really good offensive lines through the years—including the unit last year in Baltimore.

Still, I don’t think you could dream of a better situation than the one in Detroit if you are an interior offensive lineman. Another person that is likely happy about the arrival of Zeitler? Lions quarterback Jared Goff.

As we discussed earlier, Zeitler is a good run-blocker. He can be a people-mover when called upon, and he has played in a variety of offensive schemes over the course of his career. However, the thing that really makes Zeitler his money is how stout he is when it comes to protecting the passer.

Take it from Lions’ defensive tackle Alim McNeill. When Zeitler signed with the Lions during free agency, McNeill tweeted, “I tried to strike buddy and you couldn’t tell me it wasn’t a wall in front of me.”

I tried to strike buddy and you couldn’t tell me it wasn’t a wall in front of me

— Alim McNeill (@AlimMcneill) March 19, 2024

That’s high praise coming from one of the game’s most promising interior defensive linemen.

Beyond McNeill’s praise of Zeitler, Lions coach Dan Campbell also has heaped praise onto the veteran guard. Some fans assumed the Lions offensive line might take a step back after losing left guard Jonah Jackson in free agency. Not so fast.

“You’re going to be hard-pressed to find a guy who’s played as long as he has and been as consistent and as durable as he’s been,” Campbell said of Zeitler’s game. “So he’ll be, between Frank and Penei, he’ll be a steady force in there, a consistent force. And really, we just became a really veteran group, a very smart, consistent group, in my mind, especially getting Graham back.”

Lions roster preview: Kevin Zeitler fits perfectly in Lions OL (2024)
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