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Detroit Lions 2022 draft preview: Interior offensive line

The Detroit Lions may not be looking for an interior offensive lineman to start now, but a developmental project in the draft makes sense.

MAC Championship - Central Michigan v Miami Ohio Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images

Earlier, we previewed the offensive tackles in the 2022 NFL Draft class. The Detroit Lions don’t really need an offensive tackle for now or the next couple years. Detroit is similarly set on the interior offensive line for 2022, but the situation looks much different when you get a couple years down the line.

The guard position isn’t valued nearly as much as tackle in the NFL, so if Detroit wants to start looking at both depth and potential starting options in this year’s draft, it shouldn’t come at the expense of a high draft pick. Starting guards can typically be found late on Day 2 or early on Day 3. If your scouting department has their head on straight, they could even find a player with the right developmental traits to eventually become a starter in the fifth round or later.

It would not surprise me to see the Lions add an interior offensive lineman some time next week. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at this class in Part 6 of our draft preview.

Previously: Quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, offensive tackle

Under contract: Frank Ragnow (signed through 2016), Jonah Jackson (2023), Halapoulivaati Vaitai (2024), Evan Brown (2022), Tommy Kraemer (2022), Logan Stenberg (2023), Ryan McCollum (2022)

Short term need: 0/10
Long-term need: 4/10

Put simply, the Detroit Lions don’t need another interior offensive lineman for the 2022 season. Not only are they returning all of their starters from last year, but they’ve got enough capable depth. There’s a pretty good chance the guys already signed are the ones that will make the final 53-man roster in September.

The conversation changes a bit when we talk about the future, and it starts with Halapoulivaati Vaitai. Though the veteran is signed for another three seasons, his cap hit jumps to over $11 million for both 2023 and 2024 with minimal guaranteed money left on the books. It’s possible the Lions may draft a guard this year with the expectation that he takes Vaitai’s job as soon as next year in 2023.

Detroit also lacks long-term depth on the roster right now. The only non-starter signed beyond this season is Logan Stenberg, and he has not done enough to guarantee a roster spot going forward.

Day 1/Day 2 options: Boston College’s Zion Johnson, Texas A&M’s Kenyon Green, Kentucky’s Darian Kinnard, Georgia’s Jamaree Salyer, Memphis’ Dylan Parham, Central Michigan’s Luke Goedeke

It would be surprising to see the Lions target an interior offensive lineman with one of their first three picks, but Johnson and Green would be the potential targets if they did. Johnson leads the class due to top-tier athleticism and leadership credentials as a two-time team captain. Green isn’t far behind as a two-time consensus All-American. Both bring a fair amount of versatility, with some tackle in their background, but they each project to be long-term starters at the next level on the inside.

If Detroit opts to wait until the third round—typically the sweet spot for starting-capable guards—they won’t have any shortage of options. The Lions will also have an extra advantage here, because a lot of Day 2/early Day 3 options landed on Detroit’s Senior Bowl roster, including Kinnard, Salyer and Parham.

Kinnard only played tackle at Kentucky, but some view him as a better fit on the inside due to his size. He’s the definition of a nasty mauler in the run game, and that led to him earning the SEC’s Jacobs Blocking Trophy last year as the conference’s top blocker.

Salyer is shorter and stockier than Kinnard, but doesn’t give up any mobility at his size. Like Kinnard, he mostly played tackle in college, but it’s clear his path in the NFL is at guard and he shouldn’t have too much of a problem translating. He practiced some at center during Senior Bowl week.

Parham may be destined for center at the next level, but he finished his Memphis career at right guard after starting at left guard the first two years of his career. Perhaps the most athletic of this bunch (aside from Johnson), Parham may need to beef up a little to survive at the next level.

As for Goedeke, he had a decent start to the Senior Bowl (with the Jets), but an injury during the first practice ended his week early. Lions offensive line coach Hank Fraley saw him at Central Michigan’s pro day, though. He played tackle (and tight end) in college, but he’s got the prototypical size for an NFL guard. He’s still very much a work in progress, though, so it’s possible he falls to the Lions at 97.

Late-round options: Michigan’s Andrew Stueber, LSU’s Chasen Hines, Tennessee Cade Mays

The Lions got a look at Stueber during Detroit’s local pro day. Some may view him as a tackle—he mostly played right tackle at Michigan—but I’m not sure he has the athleticism required to play on the outside at the next level. Stueber showed tremendous growth at Michigan as a high-IQ player, and has good size for an NFL guard.

Hines was a two-year starter at right guard for LSU. He’s wide and has surprising athleticism for that size. He’s a bit of an injury risk, as he had knee surgery after his 2019 season and missed five games last year due to various injuries. If everything checks out with a clean bill of health and he can clean up some technique issues, though, he could be a Day 3 steal.

Mays is the most intriguing of the bunch to me. He made a shocking transfer from Georgia to Tennessee after starting 18 games over two season with the Bulldogs. In the following two seasons, Mays split his time at guard and tackle, eventually earning second-team All-SEC at right tackle last year. Mays was part of the Lions’ Senior Bowl team, but he went through some serious struggles there:

I’m still intrigued by his overall strength and attitude as a run blocker. Here’s another rep against Devonte Wyatt that went much better:

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