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2024 Combine preview: Offensive line

The No. 1 strength of this Detroit Lions football team in 2023 was the play of the offensive line. It's hard to rank in the top five in both passing and rushing without the players upfront being versatile and dominant.

Frank Ragnow and Penei Sewell are the best center and right tackle in football, and left tackle Taylor Decker is a Pro Bowl caliber player set to return on the final year of his contract. Left guard Jonah Jackson and right guard Graham Glasgow are two of the better guards in football, but both are unrestricted free agents.

This year's NFL Draft has some top-flight tackle talent, several tackle/guard versatile prospects and a handful of interior linemen considered to be instant impact players. Overall, it's a good class with versatility and depth.

With Ragnow, Sewell and Decker under contract for next season, let's focus more on the interior linemen at the Combine given the free-agent status of Jackson and Glasgow.

Top 5 interior offensive linemen to watch at the Combine:

1. Troy Fautanu, Washington, 6-4, 317

Fautanu has starting experience at both tackle and guard, which is why I included him here among the interior players. Some teams will view him as a player who can come in and compete at all five positions upfront. There's no finesse to his game. He's a mauler upfront.

View photos of the offensive line prospects who were invited to the 2024 NFL Scouting Combine.

2. Jackson Powers-Johnson, Oregon, 6-3, 334

Powers-Johnson has experience playing all three interior spots and was one of the players upfront who really stood out along the offensive line. He's a really strong player inside who wins with power and strength.

3. Graham Barton, Duke, 6-5, 315

He played tackle the last three seasons at Duke but was a center before that and most project him to be an interior player first with tackle versatility, if needed. He excels in the run game and plays with great technique that allows him to win in pass pro more than he loses. He's a plug and play inside.

4. Zach Frazier, West Virginia, 6-3, 314

Frazier has really good movement skills for an interior player. He was a four-time wrestling state champion in high school, and it translates into the way he plays football. He's as physical as they come inside, and teams are really going to love that about his game, though some will have concerns with the measurables.

5. Zak Zinter, Michigan, 6-6, 322

Zinter is a tall and versatile interior offensive lineman who was the heart and soul of a dominant Wolverines offensive line that carried them all the way to the National Championship. He started 42 games at Michigan. Teams will take a close look at the medicals because he broke his leg against Ohio State. He'll have to play with good pad level due to his height but his leverage and strength are big assets for him.

Top 3 tackles to watch at the Combine:

1. Joe Alt, Notre Dame, 6-8, 315

Alt was a three-year starter at Notre Dame with prototypical size, strength, and technique. Teams will also love the fact that he'll only be 21 years old during his rookie season. His father, John, was a Pro Bowl tackle and his brother, Mark, played in the NHL. He's the most polished and ready-to-play tackle in the class.

2. Olumuyiwa Fashanu, Penn State, 6-6, 320

Fashanu is still a young and developing tackle with all the tools NFL teams look for. He has two years of starting experience under his belt and a really high ceiling to improve his technique with NFL coaching. He was a team captain for the Nittany Lions.

3. Taliese Fuaga, Oregon State, 6-6, 334

Fuaga played right tackle but projects to play either side in the pros. He's a dominant run blocker with his combination of size and power. Some teams could also see him at guard, which will improve his value as a combo player.

Combine sleeper to watch: G Mason McCormick, South Dakota State, 6-5, 315

McCormick started at left guard for SDSU but took reps at both guard spots and center at the Shrine Bowl, where he turned some heads in one-on-one drills. He finished his career with 57 straight starts at left guard and didn't allow a sack in 2023, per Pro Football Focus.

View photos of the defensive line prospects who were invited to the 2024 NFL Scouting Combine.

Lions' need at the position: TBD

The fact that free agency in March comes before the draft in April will tell us a lot about how big of a need this is.

Glasgow said after the season both he and the team have mutual interest in him returning in 2024. We didn't get a chance to talk to Jackson after the season, but Lions general manager Brad Holmes said in his end-of-season presser that his priority is re-signing his own players before spending in free agency and that maintaining a dominant o-line is a priority.

"That's what our team is. I mean, our offensive line, us being able to protect the quarterback and run the football like we do, that's extremely important," Holmes said. "And so, that's definitely going to be one that – that'll be an area that will not be overlooked. As good as it has been in the past, just those points that you've raised, it's definitely going to be a point of emphasis still."

Holmes could look to add a tackle for the future with some versatility to play guard. He could be on the lookout for an interior player with the ability to compete for a starting spot right away, depending on how free agency goes. Do the Lions need to start thinking about the future at center? Either way, continuing to add depth upfront along the offensive line is always smart.

Free agency will decide a lot first when it comes to Detroit's draft needs upfront. Stay tuned.

Key stat: The Lions only surrendered 31 sacks on 646 dropbacks this season (4.8 percent), the fourth best rate in the NFL.

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