Lions 2024 draft: An offensive guard/center for every round

USA Today

With less than a month until the 2024 NFL draft, it’s time to bring back the long-running “A prospect for each round” series for the Detroit Lions in the draft. We’ll kick it off this year with the guards and centers, the interior offensive linemen.

The Lions aren’t going to draft an interior offensive lineman in each round, of course. The goal here is to show which types of talents are fits for the Lions in each round of the draft to help identify talents and also relative value that projects to be available for GM Brad Holmes.

Detroit does have need at both guard and center. The 2024 starters are set with steady vet Graham Glasgow and Pro Bowler Kevin Zeitler flanking All-Pro Frank Ragnow. However, Zeitler is on a one-year deal and Ragnow seriously contemplated retirement with a series of injuries. The depth is either underwhelming or unproven.

First round: Jackson Powers-Johnson, Oregon

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Powers-Johnson surged into the public consciousness with a devastatingly impressive Senior Bowl after a strong final season at Oregon. He won the Rimington Award as the best center in 2023, a year after being PFF’s top-graded guard in the PAC-12 in 2022.

What I like:
–Tremendous initial power and burst out of his stance

–Plays with power and attitude, incredibly high grit factor

–Proven at center and guard

–Excellent football IQ

Negatives:

–Shorter arms for his size

–Average athlete beyond his impressive open-field speed

–Played in a passing offense that got the ball out ridiculously fast and didn’t ask him to sustain

Powers-Johnson is a ready-made NFL starter with an All-Pro ceiling at either center or guard. His all-around game and technique are very good, though they do seem a bit overhyped of late. Absolutely perfect culture “grit fit” for Detroit.

Second round: Cooper Beebe, Kansas State

Mar 3, 2024; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Kansas State offensive lineman Cooper Beebe (OL07) during the 2024 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Beebe won the Big-12 Offensive Lineman of the Year award in both 2022 and 2023 while playing left guard and was all-conference in 2021 playing left tackle.

What I like:

–Play-to-play and game-to-game consistency is phenomenal

–Exceptional phone-booth strength

–Athletic enough to pull one gap and snowplow second-level defenders in the run game

–High-motored scrapper with good presence to recover if beaten quickly in pass protection

Negatives:

–Below-average foot quickness

–Lateral balance and range aren’t great

–Lacks ideal length and it shows if he doesn’t win the initial battle

Beebe is something of a throwback player, a powerful and clever interior lineman with more attitude and technical savvy than overt athleticism. I think he’s a first-round talent but very few projections have him coming off the board before the 40s.

Third round: Christian Haynes, UConn

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Haynes started for four seasons for the Huskies, all at right guard. He earned third-team All-American honors in both 2022 and 2023. His profile raised with a nice Senior Bowl week overall.

What I like:

–Plays like he wants the opponent to succumb to his power

–Really good one-step footwork in pass protection; squares himself very well to gap-attackers

–Packs power in his punch

–Proved he could play with better competition in Senior Bowl week

–Very experienced right guard specialist

Negatives:

–Shorter than ideal with short arms and it really shows in the run game

–Hands creep up too high too often

–Right guard only; not a center or left guard without some work

–Low foot frequency when engaged, forgets to step and hangs on instead at times

Fourth round: Christian Mahogany, Boston College

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Mahogany started for three years for the Eagles, one at left guard and two on the right side. He missed the 2022 season with a knee injury but came back to have the lowest blown pass block rate of any prospect in the draft in his final season.

What I like:

  • Exudes brute power throughout his big frame
  • Nasty initial punch that can jolt and stand up powerful rushers
  • Excellent anchor strength in pass protection
  • Finishes his blocks and looks for work to unleash more violence
  • Impressive short-area footwork to slide one step and quickly reset
  • Acts as a snowplow when pulling in the run game

Negatives:

  • Poor balance and pass protection range beyond one step in any direction
  • Can get overaggressive and overshoot his assignment
  • Lacks quickness in his feet and knees to effectively pick up stunts and second-level rushers that don’t try to bull him
  • Gets upright in space at times
  • Undersized DTs can leverage off and around him if he doesn’t win with his initial punch
  • Powerful but slow afoot and straight-linish as a run blocker in space

Mahogany could go in the third round and few would be surprised; with no fourth-round pick currently (remember–trades happen!) the Lions would need to use their third-rounder if they wanted one of the most physical guard in the last few drafts.

Fifth round: Isaiah Adams, Illinois

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Adams played two years at Illinois after transferring from the JUCO level, playing left guard and right tackle. He was a two-time Academic All-Big Ten performer who had a very nice week in Mobile at the Senior Bowl playing inside.

What I like:

–Excellent core body strength

–Has extensive game experience in a gap/duo blocking scheme but also has worked some inside zone

–Explosive off the snap with a very good initial leg drive

–Pulls as a run blocker like it’s what he was born to do

–Plays with grit and tenacity on every snap of every game

Negatives:

–Gets taller in his stance the longer a play goes on

–Inconsistent at keeping his feet churning while engaged in pass protection; rushers who can get into his pads can out-quick him

–Better at getting out into space than actually engaging blocking targets (think Graham Glasgow)

–Limited short-range quickness in recovery blocking

–Not an option at tackle in the NFL even though he played it for Illinois

Adams probably would be a late Day 2 pick if he didn’t have to kick outside to tackle for Illinois in 2023, but his struggled with edge speed hurt his profile. Higher-ceiling prospect than can usually be found in this range of the draft, but there is some bust potential.

Sixth round: Trevor Keegan, Michigan

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Keegan played over 40 games for the Wolverines, starting 37 at left guard. He was a team captain and two-time second-team All-Big Ten performer, as well as a two-time Academic All-Conference honoree. Keegan had a decent Senior Bowl week in Mobile.

What I like:

–Very good at squaring up defenders and sealing open holes in the gaps

–Strong shoulders and hands

–Requisite grit and intensity to his game

–Has experience in some pro-style passing game concepts

–Very good technique on down blocks

Negatives:

–Can be slow off the snap

–Lacks lateral athleticism beyond the first step

–Will get too tall/narrow in pass protection

–Will catch-block in pass protection instead of being more assertive

Keegan is a high-floor prospect with enough traits and savvy to play right away if needed. He might never be more than a B-grade type of player but very likely won’t ever be below a C-level player either.

Seventh round: Hunter Nourzad, Penn State

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Nourzad transferred to Penn State from Cornell, where he was a (good) right tackle. He started for the last two seasons for the Nittany Lions at both center and guard. Nourzad also played across the offensive line during the Shrine Bowl week.

What I like:

–Positional versatility and quick adaptability; could play different OL spots in the same game if asked

–Good hand placement on his initial punch

–Light on his feet in pass protection

–Can get out into space and engage with balance and some power

Negatives:

–Underpowered, especially at guard

–Gets over-aggressive off the snap and can get smoked by good swim and spin moves as a result

–Doesn’t reset his feet well when anchoring

–Might not have a set position where he can start long-term

Nourzad offers some value and versatility as a utility reserve lineman who can capably play half a game or so at any one spot. He doesn’t have the power or athleticism to be a full-time starting option without some concerns, but he’s proven to be smart and willing to work.

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