The 2022 NFL Combine on-field workouts and drills begin on Thursday, March 3 but the offensive line doesn’t take the field until March 4.
This is the latest in a series of articles that will explore the participants at the Combine that the Pride of Detroit staff believes the Detroit Lions should keep a close eye on during positional activities. Previously, we reviewed the quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends groups.
Next up: Offensive line.
The Lions return their entire starting five, their OL6 (Matt Nelson) is an exclusive right free agent, and their primary backup on the interior offensive line (Evan Brown) is a restricted free agent. If they are able to retain Nelson and Brown, they would enter 2022 with their top-seven offensive linemen intact and would only need to look to the draft for depth and potential future contributors.
Targeting a reserve offensive tackle with range to play guard, as well as a potential future starting right guard, would make sense for the Lions in this draft cycle.
What to watch for
The offensive line drills can appear uneventful if you don’t know what to look for, but when you look for key traits, the on-field drills can be very informative. Some of the priorities include: watching a player’s balance through their hips, if they bend at the knee or the waist, the smoothness of their footwork (specifically the kick slide and shuffle), and the quickness at which they process information from the coaches during the reactionary drills.
Now, on to the prospects.
Zion Johnson, IOL, Boston College, 6-foot-3, 315
Suggested by Morgan
One of the top guards in this draft class, Johnson has experience playing tackle/guard and showed his position versatility to play center at the Senior Bowl. Power and foot quickness are his calling cards and should be evident at the Combine. If the Lions opt to move on from Halapoulivaati Vaitai due to his contract, Johnson is a ready-made replacement and may be available at picks No. 32 or 34.
Darian Kinnard, RG/RT, Kentucky, 6-foot-5, 324
Suggested by Jeremy
A tick lower down the rankings scale than Johnson, Kinnard was a monster right tackle at Kentucky but projects inside to right guard in the NFL. Kinnard was with the Lions coaching staff at the Senior Bowl and is a mauling run blocker, which certainly appeals to them as part of their offensive philosophy. Look for him to “pop” the blocking bags during drills while showing a solid anchor in his hips.
Jamaree Salyer, G/T, Georgia, 6-foot-3, 320
Suggested by John
Another lineman the Lions coached at the Senior Bowl, Salyer played left tackle for the Bulldogs, but he will likely need to switch positions in the NFL, either shifting inside to guard (he played right guard at the Senior Bowl) or over to right tackle. Salyer comes with a “lacks athleticism” label, so he will be looking to prove his doubters wrong at the Combine. Movement skills in pass set drills will be important for his stock.
Dylan Parham, IOL, Memphis, 6-foot-2, 313
Suggested by Ryan
A bit shorter than the average offensive lineman, but his 33 1⁄2-inch arm length is plenty sufficient. Parham has experience playing left and right guard, as well as right tackle, but at the next level, he is surely an interior lineman. He doesn’t have center experience but he played there at the Senior Bowl and has the skill set to play there in the NFL. It’ll be interesting to see if he snaps the ball at the Combine, as he did in Mobile.
Lecitus Smith, IOL, Virginia Tech, 6-foot-3, 321
Suggested by Mike
Primarily a left guard for the Hokies, Smith also has the potential skill set to take snaps at center at the Combine if he chooses to do so. Smith has quick feet and above-average athleticism and should appeal to teams that pull their interior offensive linemen. At the Combine, he’ll want to make sure he is keeping his balance in check and doesn’t let his feet move faster than the rest of his body.
Andrew Stueber, RT/G, Michigan, 6-foot-6, 327
Suggested by Hamza
With starts at right tackle and right guard at Michigan under his belt, Stueber expanded his game to the center position at the Senior Bowl. That is exactly the kind of positional versatility the Lions are looking for in a Day 3 draft pick. While I think he is too tall and long (34 1⁄4-inch arm length) to play center at the next level, he can be a hybrid backup as a rookie and potentially develop into a starting guard in year two.
Lions starting five from the Senior Bowl
Suggested by Erik
LT Spencer Burford, UTSA (6-foot-4, 293)
LG Ed Ingram (LSU, OG, 6-foot-3, 317)
C Luke Fortner, Kentucky (6-foot-4, 302)
RG Cade Mays, Tennessee (6-foot-4 1⁄2, 321)
RT Darian Kinnard, Kentucky (6-foot-5, 324)
Ok, I’m cheating here by picking multiple guys, but I thought it was worth recognizing the players that the Lions coaches selected to be their starting offensive lineman at the Senior Bowl. If these are indeed the players the Lions prefer, that could be good news as Kinnard is the only one projected to be drafted on Day 2, and the rest are considered Day 3 options, which would best suit the Lions' needs.
We talked about Kinnard earlier. Burford is a tackle/guard hybrid player who is athletic enough to push Nelson for the OL6 role. Ingram played both left and right guard at LSU, and has the pass protection chops to challenge for a starting job. Fortner is a center/guard option that the Lions could target if they fail to retain Evan Brown. Mays has experience playing all five offensive line positions, but I like him best at right guard, and if the Lions draft him, he could challenge to start in 2023.