Allen Park — Each Saturday during the college football season, we’ll highlight five prospects with locally-televised matchups who could be a fit for the Detroit Lions in the 2022 NFL Draft, based on projected needs.
Every week, the list will aim to highlight early-, mid- and late-round prospects. This will give you a chance to watch the players performing live, instead of playing catch-up in the weeks before the draft.
Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State (No. 2)
No. 12 Oregon at No. 3 Ohio State, 12 p.m., FOX
If there’s one position you can expect to appear in this space more than any other this year, it’s wide receiver. External consensus is Detroit has the worst corps in the NFL, and while there’s some long-term promise in Amon-Ra St. Brown and Quintez Cephus, neither offers a ceiling as a true No. 1 option.
A first-team All-Big Ten selection in 2020 after catching 50 passes for 727 yards and seven touchdowns in seven games, the fleet-footed Olave is off to a strong start to the 2021 campaign, hauling in four balls for 117 yards and two scores in a season-opening victory over Minnesota.
Listed at 6-foot-1, 189 pounds by Ohio State, Olave marries deep speed with refined route running. Additionally, his ability to separate from defenders often results in doing extra damage after the catch.
If there’s a concern, it’s that his slender frame could lead to some durability issues at the next level. To be fair, that hasn’t been an issue in college. He’s missed just one game during his time at Ohio State, last year’s Big Ten championship game.
Tyler Linderbaum, OL, Iowa (No. 65)
No. 10 Iowa at No. 9 Iowa State, 4:30 p.m., ABC
While there’s plenty of long-term stability along Detroit’s offensive line following the selection of Penei Sewell in the first round of the 2021 draft, there’s still a question mark about the future of the right guard spot.
Currently manned by Halapoulivaati Vaitai, the veteran has struggled with durability since signing with the Lions ahead of the 2020 season. He carries an $8.4 million cap hit in 2022, and if he can’t right the ship, the team could move on and free up more than $4 million in space.
The best backup on the roster is Logan Stenberg, a fourth-round pick from a year ago. He didn’t see the field as a rookie, but had a strong training camp, putting himself in line to back up Vaitai this season. Still, at this point, he’s still an unknown commodity.
Linderbaum is entering his third year as a starting center for Iowa, but as we saw with Frank Ragnow as a rookie, transitioning to guard comes naturally due to the two-way footwork required to play center.
A powerhouse and former wrestler, the biggest concern with moving Linderbaum would be his size. He’s steadily bulked up during his college career, but remains listed under 300 pounds. Strength and leverage can compensate for much of that, but he’d still probably need to add another 15 or so pounds, without losing any of his athleticism, to be an effective guard in the NFL.
Malik Willis, QB, Liberty (No. 7)
Liberty at Troy, 7 p.m., ESPN+
Jared Goff probably isn’t going anywhere the next two seasons, but initial impressions would suggest the Lions should be looking for a long-term upgrade at quarterback next offseason.
It’s possible the Lions could stumble their way to the No. 1 pick in the draft, earning the right to take the QB of their choosing, but it’s also possible they surprise some people, earning a few more wins in the process and ending up selecting closer to No. 10.
Willis is a player who only figures to gain steam this season, similar to the way Trey Lance did a year ago, going from small school standout to the No. 3 pick in the draft.
A modern-era, dual-threat under center, Willis completed 64.2% of his passes in 2020, with 20 touchdowns to six interceptions. With his feet, he added another 944 yards, scoring 14 times.
He’s still developing from a thrower reliant on his impressive arm strength to a passer, but it’s helped having former Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze at Liberty. Willis, who started his college career at Auburn, has already made tremendous strides.
Size is also an issue, measuring closer to 6-foot. But like Russell Wilson, Willis is thickly built, weighing 215 pounds, making him better equipped to absorb some of the added beating that comes with being a run threat.
Daxton Hill, S, Michigan (No. 30)
Washington at Michigan, 8 p.m., ABC
Who knows what Detroit’s safety situation will look like a year from now. Starter Tracy Walker and top backup Dean Marlowe are both working on expiring deals and Will Harris is up after 2022.
Hill is an intriguing prospect who is scheme versatile and has shown a rapidly developing knack for making plays on the ball, intercepting a pass and breaking up four others in six starts a year ago.
What really stands out are the physical gifts. On film, he shows elite speed and closing burst. He should be able to rubber stamp those unteachable gifts at the scouting combine. Remember, coming out of high school, he reportedly ran the 40-yard dash in 4.3 seconds, while recording a 43-inch vertical.
A good open-field tackler who tallied 44 stops in six games a year ago, he could stand continuing to add bulk to his 6-foot, 192-pound frame to ensure durability won’t be an issue at the next level.
Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah (No. 0)
No. 21 Utah at BYU, 10:15 p.m., ESPN
Again, inside linebacker is another spot where the Lions could face significant offseason turnover. Alex Anzalone is working on a one-year deal and it’s difficult to envision Jamie Collins sticking beyond this year with a $13.3 million cap figure, while offering $7 million in cap savings to move on after the season.
Detroit partially addressed the team’s long-term future at the position in this past draft, trading up to select Derrick Barnes in the fourth round. He flashed all kinds of promise in his first preseason, but the team is going to need reinforcements to flesh out the second level of their 3-4 front.
Lloyd could be a strong option. A first-team, all-conference player a year ago, the 6-foot-3, 235-pounder surprised many by returning for his redshirt senior year. He picked up right where he left off for the Utes, earning Pac-12 Player of the Week honors after recording 12 tackles, a sack, an interception and a forced fumble in the team’s season-opening win over Weber State.
Lloyd fits Detroit’s current preference for speed and athleticism over size. He’s shown a comfort level playing both off the ball and along the line of scrimmage, where he showcases an ability to beat blocks when playing the run or blitzing off the edge. From 2019-20, he tallied 21 tackles for loss in 19 games, including 8.5 sacks.