Left Tackle // Jeff Backus
For the first time since 2001 it looks like the Lions are actually going to make a change at left tackle. The question is: Who is iron-man Jeff Backus going to hand the reigns off to? Or can he fight off the young bloods for one more season?
Second-year tackle Riley Reiff out of Iowa showed well last season as a part-time player mostly playing as a run-blocking tight end. Reiff got one start when Backus was held out of a game for the first time in his career. Jason Fox, the fourth year man out of Miami, is also waiting for his chance and judging by Jim Schwartz's remarks seems to be in the mix. Corey Hilliard is another possibility, but he seems better suited to the back-up swing tackle role.
Another possibility is the Lions using their first round draft pick on a tackle. Texas A&M product Luke Joeckel is widely regarded as this year's top draft prospect and Eric Fisher out of Central Michigan has already been getting rave reviews during Senior Bowl week. It's hard to imagine them not selecting a pass rusher, but with a lack of quality quarterbacks in this draft quality lineman will be the first to go.
Possibilities: Jeff Backus, Riley Reiff, Jason Fox, Corey Hilliard, Luke Joeckel, Eric Fisher.
Most Likely: Riley Reiff
Left Guard // Rob Sims
Rob Sims was the Lions' best all around lineman in 2012 winning the Erik Andolsek award. He won't be going anywhere barring some strange turn of events. Sims took a few snaps at center during the off-season, but that was just a drill in case of emergency.
Possibilities: Rob Sims, Bill Nagy, Dylan Gandy
Most Likely: Rob Sims
Center // Dominic Raiola
Raiola played pretty well in 2012 grading out positively in pass blocking, run blocking, and screen blocking according to ProFootballFocus.com. The major concern is it looks like he started to fade down the stretch as he struggled the last five weeks of the season, mainly in run blocking.
The 34 year old center is also owed over $4 million dollars in salary. That's a lot of money to commit to an aging lineman. The problem is they don't currently have anyone on the roster that could seriously push Raiola for his job. If they wanted to make a change they would have to bring someone in either through free agency or the draft. Barret Jones out of Alabama or Travis Frederick out of Wisconsin are two draft possibilities.
If the Lions can't bring anyone in they could do much worse than Raiola provided he can at least maintain his level of play.
Possibilities: Dominic Raiola, Dylan Gandy, Barrett Jones, Travis Frederick.
Most Likely: Dominic Raiola
Right Guard // Stephen Peterman
Peterman is owed over $3 million in salary and bonuses in 2013. He was ProFootballFocus.com's 38th ranked guard which is middle of the pack. The real problem is he was really inconsistent. Games where he pass blocked well he struggled in the run game and when he got the run game going he struggled protecting the quarterback. Similar to Raiola the Lions could do worse than Peterman, but I think he is most likely done in Detroit.
Mayhew snagged 2011 seventh round draft pick Bill Nagy out of Wisconsin off of waivers from Dallas in August and there have been whispers that he is expected to take over for Peterman. While that's a possibility, he is going to have to show vast improvement over his short rookie season where he really struggled with the Cowboys.
If the Lions look to the draft Barrett Jones and Travis Frederick are again possibilities who could start at guard and kick in to center when Raiola ends his career in Detroit. Another possibility is Larry Warford out of Kentucky who could be a steal in the second round.
Another possibility is Jason Fox kicking inside to guard, which I think is the most likely solution. The big concern there would be his injury history, but they would have Nagy on the bench just in case.
Possibilities: Stephen Peterman, Bill Nagy, Barrett Jones, Travis Frederick, Larry Warford, Jason Fox
Most Likely: Jason Fox
Right Tackle // Gosder Cherilus
If cap space wasn't such a big issue in Detroit there would be no question that the Lions would be offering Cherilus a lucrative contract. Cherilus was ProFootballFocus.com's 7th best graded tackle (2nd best right tackle) and earned their highest grade in pass blocking. Detroit suffered through the years of Cherilus trying to put it all together and he finally got it in 2012.Even more encouraging is the fact that Cherilus got better as the season went on. Unfortunately, cap space is a problem so the Lions may be forced to go in another direction.
Jason Fox, Riley Reiff and Corey Hilliard are all possibilities depending on what plays out in other spots along the line. Then there's always the possibility of drafting one of the premier tackles or Barrett Jones and letting them start out their careers on the right side of the line. I think the Lions get something done with Cherilus though and keep their blossoming talent in Detroit.
Possibilities: Gosder Cherilus, Riley Reiff, Jason Fox, Corey Hilliard, Luke Joeckel, Eric Fisher, Barrett Jones
Most Likely: Gosder Cherilus
My January prediction for the Lions 2013 offensive line:
Reiff / Sims / Raiola / Fox / Cherilus