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2023 NFL Combine preview: 15 offensive linemen the Lions should be watching

Identifying who and what to watch on the offensive line during the 2023 NFL Combine.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 01 Oklahoma at TCU Photo by Matthew Visinsky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The 2023 NFL Combine begins on Monday, February 27, with prospects arriving in their positional groups. Over the first few days, players will get medical checks, meet with NFL teams, and take the podium to answer questions from the media. Then on Thursday, March 2, the league will start four days of televised coverage of on-field drills.

This is the latest in a series of articles that will explore the participants at this year’s combine that the Detroit Lions should be keeping a close eye on during positional activities. If you missed any of our previous installments, check them out here: Quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends.

Next up: Offensive linemen

Team need

While the Lions offensive line is a strength of their offense, they have a decision to make with starting right guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai (re: healthy and salary cap purposes), their top reserve (Evan Brown) is an unrestricted free agent, and their depth overall could be upgraded. Adding a top-100 player capable of starting at right guard could be in the cards this draft cycle, while Day 3 depth options could also be in play.

What to watch for

The Lions prefer their offensive linemen to be big, strong, and athletic in order to work effectively in their gap and zone run-blocking schemes. So during on-field drills, keep an eye on prospects' balance through their hips, knee bend, and lateral movement skills. Drills like the kick slide and lateral shuffle will help expose stiffness, while the pull and drive drills will illustrate a player's athleticism. Additionally, reactionary time in all drills is an overarching theme to pay attention to.

Plug-and-play RG

The players in this section are instant starters but will also likely cost a potential top-50 pick.

O’Cyrus Torrence, RG, Florida, 6-foot-5, 337

Torrence transferred from Louisiana to Florida this past season in hopes of boosting his draft stock against SEC competition and it worked. He is considered one of, if not the top interior offensive lineman in this class. A massive human, he is a destroyer in the run game, who uses power to drive open rushing lanes. His 2000+ snaps at right guard will be very appealing, and if he tests well athletically he might crack the first round.

Steve Avila, IOL, TCU, 6-foot-3, 332

With over 1000+ snaps at center and another 1000+ at guard, Avila is a true IOL, as he is capable of playing at all three interior spots. A terrific power athlete, Avila is a perfect fit in the Lions gap/zone run scheme, as he is light enough on his feet to pull and move, yet strong enough to anchor in pass protection and bury defenders as a run blocker. Avila gives off some Jonah Jackson vibes, but is 30 pounds heavier, and is an instant starter that can be grabbed in Round 2.

RG depth with upside

Worth bringing in if the team sticks with Vaiati, as they can be quick depth and have starting upside.

Emil Ekiyor Jr, RG, Alabama, 6-foot-2, 317

With nearly 2600 snaps at right guard, Ekiyor was a three-year starter at Alabama, with loads of translatable experience. He is undersized, which will turn some teams away, but he knows how to use that to his advantage in the leverage game. His footwork is clean and it lends itself to a gap-based scheme.

Anthony Bradford, RG, LSU, 6-foot-5, 345

Bradford, a Muskegon native, has over 1000 college snaps to his name, with nearly 800 coming at right guard and the remaining at left tackle. With his massive frame, he is a road grader in the run game, yet still has foot discipline when he pulls, which makes him best suited in a gap scheme like the Lions run.

Centers that may be able to transition to guard

The Lions like interior offensive linemen with starting center experience because the position requires a high level of football intelligence and they have the dexterity to drop left and right, making them position flexible. The obstacle here will be teams in need of a starting center may value them higher than the Lions.

John Michael Schmitz, C, Minnesota, 6-foot-3, 306

Schmitz only played center at Minnesota, but he logged 2000+ snaps over his career. He is in contention to be the top center in this draft class, which will drive up his appeal to teams in need, but for the Lions, his film indicates he has the skill set to also play guard. A switch to guard could take some time to adjust to, but his ability and anchor look translatable.

Joe Tippmann, C, Wisconsin, 6-foot-6, 315

Tippmann has 1400+ snaps at center, but at 6-foot-6, he will have to land in the upper levels of athletic testing in order to stay at the pivot. If he can’t snap and get set quick enough, at his height he will get caught bending and vulnerable to being out-leveraged. A switch to guard solves the snap transition issue.

Jarrett Patterson, IOL, Notre Dame, 6-foot-5, 307

Patterson has 1400+ snaps at center, but also 800+ at left guard, making him a bit more position flexible compared to the rest of the prospects in this group. At the same time, center might be his best position in the NFL, as his projected arm length could be an issue with long 3-techniques. Right now, his pass pro looks on point, but he needs to improve his strength in the run game.

Luke Wypler, C, Ohio State, 6-foot-3, 300

Wypler has 1700+ college snaps, all coming at center. His size (weight and arm length) suggests that he will likely be a center-only prospect on some team's boards, but his above-average athleticism is worth keeping tabs on.

Olu Oluwatimi, C, Michigan, 6-foot-3, 310

Oluwatimi transferred from Virginia to Michigan for his graduate year and he won the 2022 Rimington award, given to college football’s top center prospect. With 2500+ snaps at center, Oluwatimi has a boatload of experience, and a year in Jim Harbaugh’s run scheme has prepared him for the NFL transition. Unfortunately, Michigan’s scheme also exposed some things he needs to work on, including adding more power and gaining more confidence in space.

Hybrid tackle/guards

These are college tackles who could probably stay outside in the right NFL system, but also have enough positional range that the Lions would consider using them at guard.

Matthew Bergeron, OT/G, Syracuse, 6-foot-5, 324

With nearly 1500 snaps at tackle and just four inside, many evaluators believe Bergeron may end up at guard in the NFL because of his run-blocking skills. He can be absolutely dominant in the run game, fitting multiple systems because of his ability to pull and reach the second level. At the same time, he has enough appeal at tackle that teams who missed one in the first round might be very happy grabbing Bergeron in Round 2.

Cody Mauch, OT/G, North Dakota State, 6-foot-5, 306

Mauch played almost 2500 snaps at left tackle for the Bisons, but he did get some work at right tackle and guard as well. Despite being 6-foot-5, Mauch checked in at the Senior Bowl with just 32 1/8-inch arm length, nearly two inches below the league average. That alone is enough for some teams to view him as a guard, though the Lions are a bit more flexible. Beyond arm length, Mauch also displays a lot of successful traits that would work well inside, including tenacity as a run blocker, movement skills, and grittiness.

McClendon Curtis, RG/OT, Tennessee-Chattanooga, 6-foot-6, 345

Curtis is a little different from the players in this section because he has over 1000 snaps at right guard and a tick under 500 at left tackle, but his frame and arm length (35 inches) are significant enough that some teams will want to try him on the outside. For the Lions, I think he would fit in as a mauling right guard, but with his lower level of competition faced and a few technical improvements to correct, he’ll probably need time before he is ready to start.

Tyler Steen, OT/G, Alabama, 6-foot-5, 315

With over 3000 snaps at tackle (2300 coming on the left side), Steen has a lot of experience, especially considering he started his college career on the other side of the ball. Despite his experience, he still has some technical flaws in his game that need to be cleaned up. But his skill set also lends itself to multiple positions, including both tackle spots and likely some inside looks.

Swing offensive tackles

These players are reserve offensive tackles with the athleticism to play on the left or right, as well as inside at guard. They are also likely players the Lions could find on Day 3 of the draft.

Blake Freeland, LT, BYU, 6-foot-7, 312

With almost 2300 snaps at both tackle spots, Freeland has the height, length, and athleticism to be a swing tackle in the NFL. A high school quarterback and tight end—as well as basketball and track star—Freeland won a starting job early in his college career despite switching positions. As he polishes up his game, his role as a professional should expand.

Ryan Hayes, LT, Michigan, 6-foot-7, 305

Hayes has over 1800 snaps at left tackle, anchoring the blind side of Michigan’s Joe Moore-winning offensive line for the past three seasons. The Traverse City native is technically sound and carries a mean streak with him in Michigan’s power run game. His athleticism makes him position flexible—likely capable of learning to play both tackle and guard spots—as well as scheme diverse.

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