Lions draft preview: Center, guard holes need to be filled

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News
Cameron Erving moved to center from left tackle for the last part of Florida State's season.

This is the fourth in a series of Lions position previews for the NFL draft. Today: Centers and guards.

The Lions have done well preparing to overhaul the interior of their offensive line the past couple years, drafting a lineman in the third round each of the past two years to take over for veterans.

The one thing the Lions didn't account for was the decline of Rob Sims, who struggled the past two seasons after being the team's best offensive lineman in 2012. Now, with Sims still a free agent and no player with NFL experience at left guard on the roster, the Lions will likely turn to the draft for fill the last hole inside.

Looking ahead to 2015, Larry Warford, the third-round choice in 2013, will likely remain at right guard after excelling there his first two years in the pros. Travis Swanson, the third-rounder last year, should fill in for longtime center Dominic Raiola, whom the team chose not to re-sign as a free agent.

But, Swanson made three starts at right guard when Warford was injured last year, proving he can be versatile. So as the Lions evaluate interior linemen, they could choose a center and kick Swanson to left guard.

"It doesn't matter to me," Swanson said in January of what position he wants to play. "Wherever they want to put me, I'll go."

In drafting Warford and Swanson, the Lions personnel department proved it might have a type when looking at interior offensive linemen. Both players started for at least three years at their position at an SEC school, Kentucky for Warford and Arkansas for Swanson.

Besides Swanson and Warford, the Lions also have centers Taylor Boggs, Braxton Cave and Darren Keyton and guard Rodney Austin on the roster. Boggs leads the backups with four NFL appearances, so the Lions will surely add a veteran option before training camp, whether it's Sims or someone else.

According to ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay, this year's draft class has "a lot of depth" at offensive line, and the Lions will surely try to address theirs after allowing 45 sacks and ranking 28th in rushing in 2014.

"I think they should continue to upgrade that position," NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah said.

Go through the gallery above or go here for Josh Katzenstein's top 10 centers and guards the Lions could consider in the draft.