NFL draft preview: Detroit Lions want to to bolster already elite offensive line

Detroit Free Press

Detroit Free Press sports reporter Dave Birkett takes a position-by-position look at the top prospects and biggest Detroit Lions needs in the 2023 NFL draft. This is the seventh in an eight-part series.

It’s good business practice in the NFL to draft at least one offensive lineman a year. Good ones are hard to find, take time to develop and the peace of mind they provide is priceless for an organization. The Lions had one of the NFL’s best lines last season, but will be looking to add to the group in the draft this week.

The Lions brought at least six linemen in for top-30 visits and hosted a handful more on local day. The heavy emphasis of that group was interior linemen, which makes sense given their long-term uncertainty at the position. Frank Ragnow is coming off a Pro Bowl season, but has battled persistent toe problems the past two years. Left guard Jonah Jackson is entering the final season of his rookie contract. Right guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai is returning from back surgery. And free agent addition Graham Glasgow turns 31 this summer and is playing on a one-year deal.

Jackson has expressed an interest in signing an extension, and Ragnow is one of the best centers in the game when healthy. But the interior line cupboard is barren long-term and the Lions could use one of their four top-55 picks to restock it.

At offensive tackle, Taylor Decker and Penei Sewell give the Lions one of the best tandems in the league. Both are entrenched on contracts that run at least through 2024, and swing tackle Matt Nelson remains under contract.

The Lions did bring a couple potential first-round linemen (Darnell Wright and O’Cyrus Torrence) in for visits, and Brad Holmes’ proclivity towards drafting bigs could put a lineman in play with either first-round pick, including Peter Skoronski or Paris Johnson Jr. at No. 6. Ultimately, they need to add one tackle and two interior linemen in the draft or rookie free agency to fill out their roster.

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OTs on the roster: Taylor Decker, Penei Sewell, Matt Nelson, Obinna Eze, Darrin Paulo. IOL on the roster: Frank Ragnow, Jonah Jackson, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Graham Glasgow, Logan Stenberg, Kayode Awosika, Ross Pierschbacher.

Top 3 OT prospects: 1. Paris Johnson Jr., Ohio State; 2. Darnell Wright, Tennessee; 3. Broderick Jones, Georgia. Top 3 IOL prospects: 1. Peter Skoronski, Northwestern; 2. O’Cyrus Torrence, Florida; 3. Steve Avila, TCU.

Other players with Michigan ties: OT: Ryan Hayes, Michigan; Jake Witt, Northern Michigan. IOL:  Anthony Bradford, LSU (Muskegon HS); Sidy Sow, Eastern Michigan; Olu Oluwatimi, Michigan; Quentin Barrow, Grand Valley State.

Day 3 sleepers who could interest the Lions: OT: Jaelyn Duncan, Maryland. IOL: Jordan McFadden, Clemson.

Recent Lions draft picks at OL: 2022-None. 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).

Draft dish

Draft analysts Todd McShay of ESPN and Daniel Jeremiah of NFL Network agree that four offensive linemen stand apart in this year’s class, and there’s a high likelihood all four will go in the first 20 picks. Northwestern’s Skoronski has the best tape this year’s linemen. He’s technically sound and a bull of a run blocker, but his 32 ¼-inch arms will make him a guard for teams with a minimum standard for length.

Johnson is reportedly a candidate to go No. 3 overall to the Arizona Cardinals. He’s not as polished as Skoronski, but his arms (36 1/8-inch) are four inches longer and he has the traits teams drool over. Georgia’s Jones is the most athletically gifted of the top tackle prospects, while Wright played right guard and both tackle positions in his Tennessee career and went viral this spring for his shutdown effort against top Alabama pass rusher Will Anderson.

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Oklahoma left tackle Anton Harrison is a borderline first-round prospect, Johnson’s Ohio State teammate, Dawand Jones, is a mammoth Day 2 tackle prospect at 6 feet 8 and 374 pounds, and both Michigan’s and Northern Michigan’s Witt, a converted tight end, should hear their names called in Rounds 4-7.

Torrence is the best interior line prospect in the draft and a potential first-rounder who was as dominant at Florida last season as he was in his first three years at Louisiana. He’s a plug-and-play right guard in the NFL. Both he an Avila, a solid Day 2 prospect, visited the Lions, as did several Day 3/priority free agent types including North Carolina State’s Chandler Zavala and UCLA’s Antonio Mafi. Minnesota’s John Michael Schmitz is the top pure center in the draft, Oluwatimi should hear his name called in the middle rounds, and Witt is a former basketball player who could go on Day 3 because of his superb athleticism.

Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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