The Detroit Lions boast one of the NFL’s best offenses. Under offensive coordinator Ben Johnson, the Lions finished fifth in the league in scoring and fourth in total yards gained. It comes as no surprise that Johnson received interest from teams searching for a new head coach. Johnson is set to return for another season, and the Lions are geared up to reload for the 2023 season.
One of the big reasons for Detroit’s offensive success in 2022 was the play of their offensive line. Tackles Taylor Decker and Penei Sewell alongside center Frank Ragnow all finished with Pro Football Focus grades above 74. While their grades were not elite, they were well above average.
Guards Jonah Jackson and Evan Brown finished with decent grades as well. Jackson received a 66.1 while Brown finished with a 64.8. Solid grades, but nothing spectacular.
The guard position is likely one of need for the Lions this offseason. Brown is a pending free agent and Jackson is entering a contract season in 2023. Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who missed 2022 due to injury, is a potential cap casualty as well. Detroit could save roughly $6.6 million by cutting Vaitai this offseason. If not, the veteran guard is due $12.4 million for the 2023 season.
The Lions could target a starting-caliber guard in free agency; however, that is likely to be an expensive option. Spotrac holds Brown’s market value at $10.4 million per year. That is a bit rich for average guard play.
That leaves the NFL Draft. There is talent to be had in this year’s guard class. There is not an overabundance of talent, but there is talent nonetheless. The Detroit Lions have the draft capital to work with, and it should be no surprise if they come out of the draft with a guard.
Here are some of the 2023 NFL Draft’s top guard prospects.
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Peter Skoronski, Northwestern
Peter Skoronski will enter the draft listed as a guard, but the 21-year-old junior has the skill set to play anywhere along the offensive line. There are some scouts who are concerned about Skoronski’s size. He does not have the prototypical height and wingspan of an elite tackle prospect. This will turn some teams away from the Northwestern product. However, his size and length should be no issue if he transitions to guard.
He is a dominant blocker and utilizes his hands very well in protection. He allowed just one sack in 2022. Skoronski’s build and skillset will have him as the top offensive lineman on some teams’ boards. However, his limitations in size may cause him to fall lower on others.
The Lions are unlikely to go after an offensive lineman with the sixth overall pick, and it is hard to imagine Skoronski falls to them with the 18th pick. There is a team out there that will take a swing on a potential cornerstone tackle. Fellow Northwestern product Rashawn Slater has already proven a tackle with a limited wingspan can be productive in the NFL.
O’Cyrus Torrence, Florida
The Detroit Lions are likely to have a shot at drafting O’Cyrus Torrence with the 18th pick in the draft. There is a chance, however unlikely, they could land him with the 49th as well. Torrence is the top pure guard prospect in this year’s class. He has great size with a 6-5, 347-pound frame. PFF’s draft profile on Torrence sums him up pretty well: “There has never been a more ‘guardy’ guard prospect.”
Torrence plays with power. He can move defensive linemen with ease. He did not allow a single sack over the previous three seasons with Florida in well over 300 pass protection snaps in each season.
If the Lions are in search of a top-tier replacement for Brown this offseason, or even for Jackson the following year, Torrence is the perfect prospect. He does have some limitations physically. He is not the most agile guard in this class, and he should not be asked to move around too much. Torrence is a powerful run blocker and stout pass protector.
Steve Avila, TCU
If Detroit pursues a guard in the second round, TCU’s Steve Avila is the likely best available prospect. The 6-4, 330-pound guard allowed zero sacks in 15 games played this past season.
Avila has the flexibility to play both guard and center. However, with Ragnow already on the roster, there is no chance the Lions utilize Avila anywhere else but guard. He is by no means a perfect prospect. He has room for improvement at the point of attack, and he had moments where he took the wrong angle on run blocks.
Avila is a plug-and-play guard. He can start right away if the Lions were to move on from both Brown and Vaitai this offseason.
Andrew Vorhees, USC
If the Lions trade their way into the fourth round, USC product Andrew Vorhees is a solid project player to develop. Vorhees has work to do on his hand placement in pass protection, and he is limited from a physical standpoint. He struggles a bit getting to the second level, and can rely on his anchor instead of providing push at the line of scrimmage at times.
Vorhees has good size at 6-6, 325 pounds. He is by no means a poor prospect, but he does have a lot of room for growth. He is not a plug-and-play lineman and will need a year to season himself and develop. Vorhees has the flexibility to push out to tackle if need be, but his strengths are at guard.
Vorhees is a prospect the Detroit Lions could target if they plan on keeping either Vatai or Brown for the 2023 season. He would have the opportunity to sit and develop for a year while the Lions still receive adequate guard play. In 2024, if the team decides to move on from Jackson, or whoever is left at right guard, Vorhees can step in and fill that role.
(Featured Image Credit: Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports)
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