Lions could be on guard for OL upgrade early in draft
Allen Park — Over the next several days, leading up to the NFL draft, we’ll take a position-by-position look at the Detroit Lions’ roster situation and evaluate how the team might address these positions during the event. Today: Offensive line
■ Current roster: Taylor Decker, Graham Glasgow, T.J. Lang, Rick Wagner, Joe Dahl, Kenny Wiggins, Wesley Johnson, Leo Koloamatangi, Corey Robinson, Brian Mihalik, Dan Skipper
■Top prospects: Quenton Nelson, Isaiah Wynn, Will Hernandez, Frank Ragnow, Mike McGlinchey
■ Mid-round options: Braden Smith, Billy Price, James Daniels, Austin Corbett, Wyatt Teller, Martinas Rankin, Connor Williams
■ Late-round fits: Skyler Phillips, Rod Taylor, Scott Quessenberry, Alex Cappa, Brian O’Neil, Brandon Parker
■Short-term need: Eight out of 10
■ Long-term need: Eight out of 10
■ Analysis: General manager Bob Quinn’s three-year overhaul of the Lions’ offensive line is nearly complete.
Two years ago, Quinn drafted three linemen with his first five picks, securing Taylor Decker, a franchise blindside blocker, and a reliable interior starter in Graham Glasgow with the first two of those selections. Quinn later added versatile backup Joe Dahl in the fifth round.
Last year, Quinn leaned on free agency to continue the remodeling. The Lions opened up the checkbook to acquire right tackle Rick Wagner and guard T.J. Lang, replacing former Martin Mayhew draft picks Riley Reiff and Larry Warford.
Now Quinn must find center Travis Swanson’s replacement. After two injury-plagued seasons, the Lions allowed the former third-round pick to walk in free agency, leaving an opening in the starting lineup.
Glasgow is projected to slide to center, but with two years of starting experience at guard, the team has some flexibility coming into the draft.
Dahl started three games at left guard for the Lions late last season. Wiggins started 16 games for the Chargers at right guard and has previous experience with new offensive line coach Jeff Davidson. Johnson was the Jets starting center in 2017. And Robinson, the Lions swing tackle, got a surprising start at guard last season.
That’s a decent amount of experienced depth, but based on past performance, there’s no clear-cut favorite, making an early-round draft pick a possibility.
Notre Dame’s Quenton Nelson is the cream of the interior linemen crop in this class, and likely will be long gone before the Lions are on the clock. But UTEP’s Will Hernandez and Georgia’s Isaiah Wynn are both possibilities for Detroit at No. 20 in the first round.
Hernandez is a first-team All-American. A powerful, 348-pound road grader, he could provide an immediate boost to Detroit’s ground game. Wynn, who has experience at tackle, is the more athletic option if the Lions put a premium on moving in space, whether pulling or attacking the second level.
In the second round, the Lions still could look for a guard, such as Auburn’s Braden Smith, or consider a top-tier center such as Ohio State’s Billy Price (who could slide a bit because of a pec injury suffered at the combine) or Iowa’s James Daniels.
If Detroit went that route, Glasgow would most certainly stay at guard.
Beyond the perceived need for a starting guard, the Lions are otherwise in reasonable shape up front for 2018. Still, the team also should be mindful of a backup plan for Lang in 2019.
A Pro Bowler in his first season in Detroit, Lang battled multiple injuries during the year and turns 31 in September. If durability continues to be an issue, the Lions could consider moving on after this season. He carries an $11.7 million cap hit in 2019 with just $2.7 in dead money.
And while the focus is understandably on the interior, with tackles Decker and Wagner each under contract for multiple years, Robinson’s rookie deal expires at the end of the year, leaving room for adding a developmental tackle anywhere after the fourth round. That need might be difficult to address, given the overall dearth of talent in this pool of prospects.