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Friday, May 2, 2014
Lions NFL draft preview: Offensive line

By Michael Rothstein

The NFL draft is less than two weeks away, which means soon enough the Detroit Lions will have to reveal whether all of their Sammy Watkins attention and visits from Jadeveon Clowney and Khalil Mack had substance or were designed to throw everyone off.

But the draft will be more than just one round for the Lions, who will need to use the three days in May to build depth on a roster that is big on stars but small on those players beyond the big names that can turn the Lions into a playoff team.

Every day up until the first day of the draft, we’ll look at a different position grouping and see what Detroit has and what the team could end up looking for during the draft.

Marcus Martin
USC's Marcus Martin could fill a future need for the Lions at center.
Today continues with the offensive line.

Previous position groups: Quarterbacks; Running backs; Wide receivers; Tight ends

Players Lost: Jason Fox (signed with Miami); Leroy Harris (free agent); Dylan Gandy (free agent).

Players Signed: Dominic Raiola (re-signed); Darren Keyton; J.B. Shugarts; Sherman Carter.

Players on the roster: LT Riley Reiff; LG Rob Sims; C Raiola; RG Larry Warford; RT LaAdrian Waddle; OT Corey Hilliard; OG Rodney Austin; Keyton; Shugarts; Carter.

Draft priority: High for center; Low-to-medium otherwise.

Potential Rounds: 3-7

Players who have visited or the Lions have met with: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan; Marcus Martin, C, USC.

Analysis: This isn’t a great draft for centers, but the Lions don’t need it to be a spectacular one – just one with enough players who could eventually develop, and that should not be an issue.

Once Detroit re-signed Raiola and didn’t land Phil Costa in free agency, it became apparent that the team’s hunt for Raiola’s eventual replacement would come from the group of centers in this draft. There isn’t necessarily a first-round – or even a second-round – pick in the bunch, but there is talent and there is the opportunity to find a potential starter in the group.

Martin, the highest-rated center in the draft by ESPN.com and the only one known to have visited Detroit, is the No. 54 overall player. Two other players are ranked in the top 100 – Colorado State’s Weston Richburg and North Carolina’s Russell Bodine.

One of those three, either in the third or fourth rounds, would be a good pull for the Lions depending on who else is available. Should they wait until later in the draft and those three are gone, Utah State's Tyler Larsen and Oklahoma’s Gabe Ikard could present intriguing options to draft and groom.

Other than center, the Lions have their top three tackles and guards likely set entering training camp, but Detroit has done well finding offensive linemen in the past few years out of the draft, including Warford in the third round last season and Waddle on the undrafted free-agent list a year ago.

The only way Detroit would take a tackle in the first round is if the top tackle on their board fell to them at No. 10 and the Lions either didn’t like any of the other options and couldn’t trade out of the position. That’s the scenario where the team could take either Jake Matthews or Taylor Lewan.

Otherwise, finding a fourth guard and tackle could be either a third-day or undrafted free-agent proposition this season as the Lions' top six linemen from last season all return.

Of all reasonable options, I’d take: If Richburg or Bodine are there in the third round, I’d potentially make a move on one of those players. If not, I’d wait until the third day and take Ikard. Center would be, by far, the only position worth being concerned with before the third day of the draft, and by then the Lions will likely be looking for a backup quarterback, possibly a wide receiver or linebacker and then the best players available to fill out the roster.

That’s where they could potentially grab a Michael Schofield, who played both guard and tackle at Michigan, or a Brandon Linder or Spencer Long at guard. I’d anticipate Detroit drafting a tackle or guard at some point in the draft, but unless it is an obvious best player available situation, that won’t happen until the third day.

Possible targets: Center – Martin, Richburg, Bodine, Larsen, Ikard. Tackle – Lewan, Schofield, Billy Turner, North Dakota State; Cornelius Lucas, Kansas State. Guard – Schofield; Brandon Linder, Miami (Fla.); Spencer Long, Nebraska.