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Detroit Lions could be players in deep OL class

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The Detroit Lions had one of the worst rosters in the NFL when Brad Holmes took over as general manager three years ago, but in one regard the talent Holmes inherited was perfect for the rebuild he was about to author.

The strength of the Lions’ roster then was a young offensive line that was considered one of the best in the league. Holmes plugged the group’s only hole with his first-ever draft pick, right tackle Penei Sewell, and signed Pro Bowl center Frank Ragnow to an extension days later, ensuring the core would be together for years to come.

“We’re firm believers that that’s where the game is won,” Holmes said at his annual pre-draft news conference last week. “That’s the foundation. That’s the core of our team. Yeah, there were some guys in place already, so it was less work that needed to be done. Now, the pieces that we’ve added with the guys that were previously here have just fortified it and made it even stronger.”

The Lions still have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL.

Sewell was a first-team All-Pro selection last season. Ragnow is coming off his third Pro Bowl. Left tackle Taylor Decker has played at a high level for most of his eight seasons in Detroit. Graham Glasgow is on his second tour of duty and third contract with the Lions. And the team signed respected veteran Kevin Zeitler to replace Jonah Jackson this offseason.

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But age and injuries can’t be avoided, and both are creeping up on the group, which is approaching a crossroads in next week’s NFL draft.

Holmes has been adamant he doesn’t draft for need, and the Lions do not have an immediate need – or starting job available – on their offensive line.

But part of his job as GM is to keep one eye on the future, and the Lions have some uncertainty ahead up front.

Zeitler (34), Glasgow (32 in July) and Decker (31 in August) are in the over-30 crowd and approaching the point in their careers where falloff is inevitable. Decker is in the last year of his contract and Zeitler signed a one-year deal in free agency. Sewell is closing in on a contract that will make him the highest-paid offensive lineman in the game. And Ragnow has a degenerative toe condition the Lions have had to manage for three years.

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Holmes acknowledged at his end-of-season news conference in February that reinforcing the line for 2024 and beyond would be “a point of emphasis” this offseason, and the Lions could be in a position to do that with the 29th pick in the first round.

“That’s always going to be the utmost importance,” Holmes said last week. “That’s something that’s hard to overlook. I don’t care who you’ve got at quarterback. I don’t care if you got more of a pocket guy, a scrambler. I don’t care what it is. Offensive line, that’s critical. And when you don’t have them, it can make life hard in a lot of different areas.”

This year’s draft is considered deep at offensive line, though it lacks a Sewell-type talent up top.

NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah ranks nine offensive linemen among his top 30 prospects and there are at least two other blockers who could go in the first round.

The Lions likely won’t be in the mix for the draft’s best tackles. Notre Dame’s Joe Alt, Penn State’s Olu Fashanu, Oregon State’s Taliese Fuaga and Washington’s Troy Fautanu are projected top-20 picks.

But there are three different and versatile interior linemen projected to come off the board in the 20s who could tempt the Lions in Round 1.

Duke’s Graham Barton started three seasons at left tackle but could move inside in the NFL because of his short arms. He’s smart and athletic, and has true five-position versatility.

Oregon’s Jackson Powers-Johnson won the Rimington Trophy as the nation’s top center last year. He’s nasty and naughty, and played some defensive line as a fill-in early in his career.

And West Virginia’s Zach Frazier, who ranks 37th on Jeremiah’s prospect list, is a four-time high school state wrestling champ who Jeremiah said might be the best fit of the bunch in Detroit.

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“That’s something I’ve talked to a bunch of teams around the league is these three guys paired together and teams going through their meetings trying to sort these guys out,” Jeremiah said. “I would have it Graham Barton, Jackson Powers-Johnson, then Zach Frazier, and if you asked me who’s the Lion in the group I would say the third one. I would say Frazier. I mean, the four-time state champ wrestler, the guy who’s just got a tenacity to him and a physicality to and through the whistle. He kind of fits their style as you know there, and I think he’s worthy of being taken there in the bottom of the first round. I’d have no problem with that at all.”

Whether it’s Round 1 or later in the draft, any lineman the Lions take likely will open next season as a backup and have a chance to compete for a starting job perhaps in 2025.

The Lions spent a fifth-round pick on guard Colby Sorsdal last season and Kayode Awosika started three games because of injuries. They don’t have many swing tackle options behind veteran Dan Skipper, and seem destined to add a lineman somewhere this week.

“It’s always of the utmost importance and we feel really good about our offensive line now,” Holmes said. “We love what we did in free agency and I feel like we could line down and play now and be totally fine. It’s going to be whatever, if we do add somebody, it’s going to be hard to crack one of those big boys up front.”

Contact Dave Birkett at [email protected]. Follow him on X and Instagram at @davebirkett.