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 catchup in the weeks before the draft.
Nakobe Deanm, LB, Georgia (No. 17)
No. 2 Georgia vs. No. 8 Arkansas, 12 p.m., ESPN
On Sunday, we got our first extended look at the future of Detroit’s linebacking corps with Derrick Barnes’ first start. It went about as expected, with plenty of rookie mistakes, but that’s going to be part of the growing process for the fourth-round pick as he matures within the team’s defensive scheme.
But Barnes is only part of the equation. The Lions will likely be looking for a second inside linebacker to pair with him this offseason, given Alex Anzalone and Jalen Reeves-Maybin are operating on one-year contracts.
At first glance, Deanm is undersized for the position — listed at 6-foot, 230 pounds — but you have to remember, the Lions have made it clear they’ll prioritize speed and athleticism over bulk at the position.
Deanm possesses sideline-to-sideline quickness and has shown a knack for getting to the quarterback when blitzing from the second level. His coverage skills still need some work. He largely limits yards after the catch, but rarely makes a play on the ball. He hasn’t broken up a pass since his freshman season.
Aidan Hutchinson, Edge, Michigan (No. 97)
Wisconsin vs. No. 14 Michigan, 12 p.m., FOX
Coming back from a fractured leg a year ago, Hutchinson looks as explosive as ever coming off the edge for the Wolverines. Through the team’s first four games, he’s tallied 15 tackles and 4.5 sacks. He’s also an elite run defender, a trait that never goes out of style at the pro level.
At 6-6, 269 pounds, he’d be a good fit playing the 5-technique in Detroit’s defensive scheme, where he wouldn’t be expected to drop into coverage.
Even with his production, there’s still plenty of untapped potential. Few prospects will likely be able to match his athletic profile at the position, which could compare favorably to former teammate Kwity Paye, a first-round pick in the past draft.
Desmond Ridder, QB, Cincinnati (No. 9)
No. 7 Cincinnati at No. 9 Notre Dame, 2:30 p.m., NBC
Three games into the regular season and it’s still unclear whether Jared Goff deserves to be viewed as Detroit’s long-term solution at quarterback. The former No. 1 overall pick has had two really good halves — the first against Green Bay and the second against Baltimore — but has yet to put together a full 60 minutes for the Lions.
If the Lions ultimately prove reluctant to use one of their two first-rounders on a quarterback, Ridder could make sense as a Day 2 option. He would conveniently slot into the backup job while being allowed to developed at a more reasonable pace.
One thing Ridder could add to mix for Detroit is dual-threat ability. While not an elite running threat, he’s got above-average speed to make plays with his feet both on designed runs or when his pocket breaks down. He’s averaged more than 600 rushing yards and seven touchdowns the past three seasons.
With his arm, Ridder has hovered around completing 65% of his passes since his junior year, throwing 26 touchdowns to eight interceptions. He has top-tier arm strength to succeed at the next level, but will need to hone his accuracy if he’s going to be one of the rare mid-round quarterbacks who develops into a franchise solution, a la Russell Wilson and Dak Prescott.
Matt Corral, QB, Ole Miss (No. 2)
No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 12 Ole Miss, 3:30 p.m., CBS
Two quarterbacks on the list in one week? Absolutely. I wouldn’t want you to miss out on the hottest prospect at the position showcasing what he can go against the defending champs and favorites to repeat.
In 2020, his first year with coach Lane Kiffin, Corral showed both significant positive progress and major needs for improvement. He completed nearly 71% of his throws and was one of the nation’s top deep-ball passers, but his questionable decision-making resulted in 14 interceptions.
Those turnovers have evaporated to start the 2021 campaign, while the strengths of his game remain. He’s actually averaging more yards per attempt this season — 10.4 to 10.2 — with nine touchdowns and zero, yes zero, interceptions.
Oh, and the 6-1, 205 pounder can run a little bit, too. He racked up 506 yards and four touchdowns on the ground in 10 games last season, and already has 158 yards and five rushing touchdowns through three games this year.
His overall skillset will likely draw comps to Baker Mayfield and Zach Wilson as the draft nears.
Jalen Tolbert, WR, South Alabama (No. 8)
Louisiana at South Alabama, 8 p.m., ESPN+
It’s difficult to imagine how it’s possible, but Detroit’s receiving production has come in under bleak preseason estimates after three games. Kalif Raymond, with two longer catches in the closing minutes of the loss to the Ravens, is pacing the group with 11 receptions and 136 yards. Quintez Cephus is next on the list with 83 yards and no other member of the corps has more than 43.
All that to say the Lions are in clear need of more talent, and they could find it in Tolbert, a D-I subdivision standout.
Coming off a year where he caught 64 balls for 1,085 yards and eight touchdowns in 11 games, the lanky, 6-3 Tolbert entered his senior season with serious buzz. His ball skills and ability to do damage in the deeper parts of the field are strengths, and his quickness off the line gives him promising potential as a route runner.
“He’s got a really big catch radius,” Senior Bowl director Jim Nagy said in a recent interview. “He can snatch it off his shoe tops, he can go up and get it, so he’s really a friendly target that way. And he’s creative after the catch. He’s got a way of getting away from people. He’s done really nice job in the red zone over the years and is a good high-point player.”