Ten players to watch for Lions on Day 3 of NFL Draft

Detroit News

Due to previous trades, the Lions are entering the third day of the 2021 draft light on picks. They’ll open Saturday scheduled to select twice. They hold the seventh pick of the fourth round, No. 112 overall, and will be back on the clock at No. 153 in the fifth round

And based on comments made by general manager Brad Holmes Friday night, there doesn’t appear to be any urgency to add picks later in the day. It might just end up being two.

The Lions did add three players on Friday, a pair of defensive tackles in Levi Onwuzurike and Alim McNeill, as well as cornerback Ifeatu Melifonwu. To the surprise of no one who has been following the team, there are still plenty of roster holes, but the Lions were never going to be able to fill them all in this draft.

The draft’s third day always carries more mystery, and this year more than ever after the ongoing pandemic spurred dozens of prospects to opt out and the scouting combine to be canceled.

Still, let’s take a stab at identifying some prospects to watch for the Lions with their two selections.

► Tylan Wallace, WR, Oklahoma State

This front office values collegiate production and Wallace put up huge numbers for the Cowboys, racking up 3,316 yards and 26 touchdowns in 32 games across the past three seasons. He’s not the best athlete, but he has enough straight-line speed to be effective at the next level, whether that’s outside or in the slot.

► Jabril Cox, LB, LSU

A carryover from our Day 2 watch list, Cox would be an excellent addition in the fourth round. He’s not the biggest linebacker, meaning he’ll struggle to beat blocks as a run defender on occasion, but he possesses some real ability in both zone and man coverage. From an athletic traits standpoint, he’s among the best at his position, which puts him in the same company as the rest of Detroit’s draft class.

► Shaun Wade, CB, Ohio State

This time last year, analysts were talking about Wade as a potential early-round pick, but his stock sunk after he labored through the 2020, which coincided with a shift to the outside from the slot. His 2019 production as a nickel, as well as premium athletic traits, make him worth a Day 3 pick.

► Derrick Barnes, LB, Purdue

Barnes is a good athlete with adequate bulk, although at 6-foot, he’s on the shorter side for the position. At Purdue, he split his time between rushing off the edge and playing off the ball. He’s not big enough to do the former with any regularity in the NFL, but the skill set he developed should serve him well as a blitzer. He also has the makings of a potent special teams contributor.

► Jaelon Darden, WR, North Texas

Darden is one of several undersized yet shifty slot receivers in this draft class. At 5-foot-9 and 174 pounds, you better be both fast and quick. He checks both boxes, posting excellent times in the 40-yard dash as well as the 3-cone and short shuttles. At North Texas, he had a nose for the end zone, scoring on 31 of his 150 receptions the past two seasons. Stick him in the slot and let him eat underneath.

► Jamar Johnson, S, Indiana

Another carryover from our Day 2 list, Johnson has the size and athleticism that works well for Detroit’s plan to run more split-safety coverages. Inexperienced, for sure, but he still managed to come up with six interceptions while playing fewer than 800 snaps for the Hoosiers. If the Lions feel they can coach him up as a tackler, he could be a workable long-term piece in Detroit’s secondary.

► Trey Smith, G, Tennessee

The Lions have already added a truckload of beef in this draft, but if there’s an emphasis on being nasty up front, Smith could complete the puzzle up front. The mauling lineman would provide immediate interior depth and could contend for a starting spot in 2022, when the franchise could face a decision on Halapoulivaati Vaitai, either because of durability or cap concerns.

Worth noting, Smith has had issues with blood clots in his lungs. Admittedly that might take him off several teams’ boards, including Detroit’s.

► Jacob Harris, WR, Central Florida

Once again, here’s an elite athlete with impressive size. The 6-foot-5, 219-pounder clocked an impressive 4.43 seconds in the 40, pairing that with top-flight explosion and change of direction metrics. The production is certainly limited, peaking at 30 catches for 539 yards and eight touchdowns in 10 games last season, but those are traits worth developing during a year the Lions aren’t expected to contend for the postseason.

► Hamsah Nasirildeen, S, Florida State

On the third day of the draft, you can afford taking on a little more risk. With Nasirildeen, that’s injury related. He’s coming off a torn ACL in 2019 that limited him to only a couple games in 2020. The size is the first thing that catches your eye, at 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, but what makes him a good fit for Detroit is his character.

This from his NFL.com draft profile perfectly sums up who Nasirildeen is: “Even while rehabbing, he made road trips to offer guidance and leadership to younger players and was celebrated by the entire sideline after grabbing an interception in one of his 2020 appearances.”

► Elerson Smith, DE, Northern Iowa

Speaking of risk, Smith is a boom-or-bust option for the later rounds. The small school standout has problem-causing length with a 6-foot-6 frame and 34-inch arms. If he was 15-20 pounds heavier, given his athletic profile, he might have drawn some Day 2 interest. But at 252 pounds, with natural leverage concerns, setting an edge will be tough, limiting him to clear pass-rushing situations.

In his one year as a starter, he racked up 14 sacks and five forced fumbles. Even factoring in the level of competition, that’s impressive.

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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