NFL draft preview: Detroit Lions seem poised to pass on top OL talent with No. 2 pick

Detroit Free Press

Free Press sports reporter Dave Birkett takes a position-by-position look at the top prospects and biggest Detroit Lions needs in the 2022 NFL draft. This is the fourth in an eight-part series.

New Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson was effusive in his praise of his offensive line earlier this offseason, saying the group could be “not just good, but dominant up front.”

Pro Bowl guard Jonah Jackson doubled down on that sentiment this week.

“I said it last year, I’m going to stand on it,” Jackson said. “I think we can be the best in the league. I know we can the best in the league, we just got to come out to work every day.”

The Lions return all nine linemen who started games in 2021, when they did not have their projected top five together for a single snap. Left tackle Taylor Decker and center Frank Ragnow missed significant time with injuries, though both are expected back and healthy this season.

Along with Ragnow and Decker, the Lions return Jackson, Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Penei Sewell as starters, and Matt Nelson and Evan Brown as key reserves. Jackson made his first Pro Bowl last season, and Sewell played well as a rookie while splitting time between both tackle positions.

Given their depth and relative youth up front — Decker and Vaitai, who turn 29 this summer, are the oldest linemen on the roster — it would be a surprise if the Lions spent a first-round pick on a lineman for the second straight year. They could use backup depth, though, at both the tackle and interior line positions.

OTs on the roster: Taylor Decker, Penei Sewell, Matt Nelson, Dan Skipper. IOL on the roster: Frank Ragnow, Jonah Jackson, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Evan Brown, Ryan McCollum, Logan Stenberg, Tommy Kraemer.

Top 3 OT prospects: 1. Evan Neal, Alabama; 2. Ikem Ekwonu, North Carolina State; 3. Charles Cross, Ole Miss. Top 3 IOL prospects: 1. Tyler Linderbaum, Iowa; 2. Kenyon Green, Texas A&M; 3. Zion Johnson, Boston College.

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Other players with Michigan ties: OT: Bernhard Raimann, Central Michigan. IOL: Luke Goedeke, Central Michigan; Andrew Stueber, Michigan; Zein Obeid, Ferris State; Matt Allen, Michigan State, Kevin Jarvis, Michigan State.

Day 3 sleeper: OT: Braxton Jones, Southern Utah. IOL: Zach Tom, Wake Forest.

Recent Lions draft picks at OL: 2021 — Penei Sewell (1st round). 2020 — Jonah Jackson (3rd round), Logan Stenberg (4th round). 2019 — None. 2018 — Frank Ragnow (1st round), Tyrell Crosby (5th round). 2017 — None.

Draft dish

The Lions do not have a big need at offensive line, but Neal and Ekwonu are considered two of the best prospects regardless of position in this class. The Jacksonville Jaguars are believed to be considering a lineman at No. 1, and if they pass on the position, the Houston Texans, New York Giants, New York Jets, Carolina Panthers and Seattle Seahawks all could consider a tackle in the top 10.

Opinions are split on whether Neal or Ekwonu is the better prospect. Both are power players who have extensive starting history at the guard and tackle spots, and some believe Ekwonu has star potential on the inside. Beyond those two, Cross earns high marks as a pass protector, and Northern Iowa’s Trevor Penning should join the group as a top-20 pick.

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Linderbaum is undersized at 6 feet 2 and 296 pounds, so he won’t fit every team. But he’s got a nasty demeanor and could be a Day 1 starter in a zone rushing attack. Green and Johnson could sneak into the back half of Round 1 as seasoned guards, while Nebraska’s Cam Jurgens and Kentucky’s Luke Fortner are likely Day 2 picks.

Raimann should be the first of the local prospects off the board, potentially late in the first round. He’s had a remarkable rise after coming to Michigan as an exchange student, but remains relatively raw as a prospect. Goedeke and Stueber are mid-round talents who played tackle in college but might be guards in the NFL, and Obeid garnered interest after a strong showing at CMU’s pro day and should at least be a priority free agent.

Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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