Lions NFL Draft watch: Five prospects to watch for Week 4

Detroit News

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.

Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame (No. 14)

No. 12 Notre Dame vs. No. 18 Wisconsin (Soldier Field in Chicago) | 12 p.m. | FOX

Regardless of what those outside the building believe, there’s no way we can guarantee the Lions will use their first pick on a quarterback. Whether that’s because they aren’t in love with the available options, have continued faith in Jared Goff as the solution, or a combination of those two factors, there’s a realistic possibility the team goes a different direction with their top choice next April.

Enter Hamilton.

Remove traditional positional value from the equation and Hamilton is in the conversation for best player in this class. Listed at an eye-popping 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, paired with top-tier athleticism, the Irish have comfortably deployed him in a number of roles within their secondary.

In 27 games at Notre Dame, he’s managed to rack up eight interceptions. As a potential deep man in Detroit’s split safety coverage scheme, his size, speed and length would be an immediate boost to the team’s ability to generate turnovers.

Those coverage skills are rounded out by a physical tackler who can be relied upon to support the run. He’s a true all-around talent.

Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas (No. 16)

No. 7 Texas A&M at No. 16 Arkansas (in Arlington) | 3:30 p.m. | CBS

Through two games, we’ve seen nothing to suggest the Lions won’t be in the market for a playmaking receiver next offseason. And while they could always address the need in free agency, that doesn’t seem like a great use of resources at this stage of their rebuild.

The crop of receiving talent in the past couple drafts has been staggering, and while this year’s class is solid, there’s a considerable drop-off in overall depth. Burks is near the top of most early rankings after posting 820 yards and seven touchdowns in nine games last season.

Used mostly as a deep threat when he first saw the field for the Razorbacks, his still-developing route tree expanded during that breakout campaign. Working primarily out of the slot, Burks is a difficult coverage assignment because of his unusually large frame (6-foot-3, 230 pounds), which is complemented by above-average athleticism and speed. Linebackers can’t keep up and he’s a tough tackle for a nickel corner or safety.

Burks has huge hands, which helps him limit the drops. He’s also comfortable being put in motion, which will allow an NFL offensive coordinator to do the same to create potential mismatches.

Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida

Tennessee at No. 11 Florida | 7 p.m. | ESPN

After Teez Tabor, we can understand if Lions fans are feeling trepidations seeing a Florida cornerback on the list, but you have to embrace evaluation of the player, not the uniform.

Much like Ifeatu Melifonwu, who the Lions drafted this past year, Elam possesses a bigger frame (6-foot-2, 196 pounds) and prefers to play a physical brand of coverage on the outside.

Florida plays a lot of off-man coverage, which can cover up some flaws, but there’s little denying Elam’s ability to make a play on the ball. Through 23 games, he’s had his hands on 18 passes, while intercepting five. On the flip side, he entered this season having allowed just 19 first down grabs and a single touchdown.

Spencer Rattler, QB, Oklahoma (No. 7)

West Virginia at No. 4 Oklahoma | 7:30 p.m. | ABC

With Elam, we emphasized the need to judge the player, not the uniform, but it’s tough to ignore the string of quarterbacks the University of Oklahoma has produced in recent years — Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Jalen Hurts are all currently starting in the NFL.

Rattler entered the season as the consensus top quarterback in this class and has the chance to join Mayfield, Murray and Sam Bradford as Sooners QBs selected No. 1 overall in the past 20 years.

Taking the reigns from Hurts in 2020, Rattler completed 67.5% of his passes, with 28 touchdowns and seven interceptions in 11 games. It’s important to note that five of those turnovers came in his first four games. Plus, he’s been even more efficient as a passer to start this year, raising his completion percentage to 74.7%.

He also offers some dual-threat ability. In 2020, he carried the ball 81 times, putting up 160 yards and six scores. More importantly, he uses his feet to escape pressure in the pocket while keeping his eyes downfield, resulting in some of his biggest pass gains.

Rattler is undersized, at 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, but that frame still holsters an arm with above-average strength to make the necessary throws at the next level. He needs to get better at taking fewer sacks, but it’s something that can be coached up in the NFL, particularly by putting a greater emphasis on utilizing check down reads.

Terrel Bernard, LB, Baylor

No. 14 Iowa State at Baylor | 3:30 p.m. | FOX

Detroit’s linebackers have been an early source of frustration, and, really, a continuation of an issue that’s dated back to Deandre Levy’s hip injury and subsequent decline several years back.

The team potentially has a partial solution in Derrick Barnes, a fourth-round draft pick that looked sharp in the preseason and is nearing a bigger role. But with starters Alex Anzalone and Jamie Collins both projected to be off the roster next offseason, the Lions need more help.

It’s a stretch to suggest Bernard, a likely mid-round selection, would be a plug-and-play starter, but he could provide immediate depth with developmental upside to carve out a defensive role in 2023.

Listed at 6-foot-1, 222 pounds, he’s clearly in need of an NFL weight program, but his nose for the ball is undeniable. In five games last season, he racked up 55 tackles, including 6.5 for loss. And in 2019, he had 112 stops, 4.5 sacks and three forced fumbles.

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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