Lions NFL Draft watch: Prospects to watch for Championship Week

Detroit News

Each Saturday during the college football season, we’ve highlighted five prospects with locally televised matchups who could be a fit for the Detroit Lions in the 2022 NFL Draft, based on projected needs

This week, we’re changing things up. Instead of limiting the list to five prospects, we’re bringing you two from each conference championship game that will air throughout Saturday.

Baylor vs. Oklahoma State, 12 p.m., ABC

Tyquan Thornton, WR, Baylor: A high school track star, Thornton has rebounded in a big way from a down season during the pandemic, where he was limited to 16 receptions in five games. In 2021, he’s pacing the Bears with 55 grabs for 875 yards and eight scores. A late-round option, the 6-foot-3, 182-pounder is going to need to pack on some good weight to has long, lean frame to see playing time at the next level.

More: Lions poke fun at Amani Oruwariye’s luck, but third-year CB maximizing his opportunities

Malcolm Rodriguez, LB, Oklahoma State: Listed at 5-foot-11, 225 pounds, Rodriguez plays much bigger than his undersized frame would suggest. A state championship wrestler in high school, he’s translated his mat skills to his gridiron tackling technique, racking up nearly 300 stops across the past three seasons, including 25.5 behind the line of scrimmage along with 11 forced fumbles.

Kent State vs. Northern Illinois, 12 p.m., ESPN

Dustin Crum, QB, Kent State: Strong-armed and smart, one of Crum’s best assets is protecting the ball. In 45 games, he’s tossed just 10 interceptions, compared to 50 touchdowns. He also brings above-average accuracy (67,2 completion percentage) and mobility (1,933 yards, 23 touchdowns) to the table.

Marques Cox, OT, Northern Illinois: The Lions certainly have room for a developmental tackle and Cox has unteachable physical gifts, standing 6-foot-6 with long limbs. When het gets his hands on MAC edge defenders, they have no answer, but leverage and strength are going to need continued development to handle NFL-caliber rushers with more complete pass-rush move sets.

Utah State vs. San Diego State, 3 p.m., Fox

Cameron Thomas, San Diego State: Flying under the radar because of where he plays, Thomas has been one of the nation’s most productive edge defenders this season. Of his 66 tackles, nearly a third have been for a loss, including 10.5 sacks. Listed at 6-foof-5, 270 pounds, his experience playing defensive tackle gives him an inside/outside skill set, where he’s just as comfortable fighting for real estate in a phone booth as he is trying to bend the edge against an offensive tackle.

► Deven Thompkins, WR, Utah State: Listed at 5-foot-8, 155 pounds, odds are Thompkins won’t be drafted, but there’s enough production there to at least merit a look as an undrafted free agent. A semifinalist for the Biletnikoff award as the nation’s best player at his position, he’s already broken the school record for receiving yards in a season, snagging 87 balls for 1,543 yards and nine touchdowns ahead of the championship matchup. Beyond speed, he has a surprising knack for winning contested catches, despite his size. He credits his production jump to the Aggies’ new coaching staff, which has helped him better understand coverages, allowing him to more effectively attack defenses.

Appalachian State at Louisiana, 3:30 p.m., ESPN

Corey Sutton, WR, Appalachian State: After tearing his ACL and opting out last season, the 6-foot-3, 205-pound wideout’s production has exploded upon his return. Through 12 games, he’s racked up 876 yards and seven touchdowns with 59 receptions. Sutton has always had a knack for the end zone, scoring 24 times in 34 games during his collegiate career. A solid route runner who is comfortable in contested catch situations, he could punch his ticket to being drafted with a solid 40 time.

Percy Butler, S, Louisiana: The Lions had some success the last time they plucked a safety out of Louisiana with Tracy Walker, so why not try it again? A mid-round prospect, Butler has played a versatile role for the Ragin’ Cajuns, lining up deep, in the box and as a man-to-man defender in the slot. A solid tackler who isn’t afraid to deliver a big hit, he should contribute immediately on special teams while his defensive skill set is developed.

Georgia vs. Alabama, 4 p.m., CBS

Nakobe Dean, LB, Georgia: It’s difficult to pick one player on Georgia’s loaded defense, but few positions need to be upgraded more in Detroit than inside linebacker. In the previous iteration of the team’s 3-4 defense, there’d be no place for a 225-pound option, but the current regime values speed and instincts over size. Dean is highly disruptive as a blitzer, recording 5.0 sacks this season, and excellent in coverage, allowing just 61 yards on 26 throws in his direction.

Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama: After not being able to break through on Ohio State’s crowded depth chart, Williams transferred to Alabama where he’s performed at a high enough level to merit first-round consideration. The 6-foot-2, 190-pound speedster is electric with the ball in his hands, averaging 20.7 yards per reception and finding the end zone 13 times for the Tide. That’s also translated to the return game, where he’s averaging 37.4 yards when handling kickoffs.

Houston at Cincinnati, 4 p.m., ABC

Marcus Jones, CB, Houston: One of the better kick returners to enter the draft in recent years, Jones has housed six kickoffs and three punts during his four-year college career, split between Troy and Houston. But the man they call Swiss for his versatility is more than a special teams star, he’s been a reliable slot corner for the Cougars, intercepting five passes this season, while also dabbling on offense with 10 catches and another touchdown.

Desmond Ridder, QB, Cincinnati: At the top of the second tier of quarterbacks in this class, Riddler has continued to improve throughout the course of his college career. The 6-foot-4, 215-pounder is completing 66.0% of his passes for the undefeated Bearcats with 27 touchdowns to just eight interceptions. He’s been running less this season, but remains a constant threat to do damage with his feet. For his four-year career, he’s gained more than 2,000 yards on the ground and scored 28 touchdowns.

Prairie View A&M at Jackson State, 4 p.m., ESPN2

De’Jahn “Nugget” Warren, CB, Jackson State: The former No. 1 JUCO transfer, Warren spurred offers from major programs including Georgia and Alabama to play for Deion Sanders at Jackson State. Playing in the spring season, the 6-foot-1, 185-pounder tallied five pass breakups and an interception in six games, while also handling punt return duties.

Drake Cheatum, CB, Prairie View A&M: The 5-foot-10, 185-pounder is a ballhawk, racking up more than 80 tackles while intercepting five passes this season. That was good enough to earn him first-team all-conference honors for the second consecutive year and should help him get into a training camp as an undrafted free agent.

Pitt vs. Wake Forest, 8 p.m., ABC

Kenny Pickett, QB, Pitt: The Lions are unlikely to draft a quarterback with their first pick in the first round — currently tracking to be the No. 1 overall choice — but it’s not out of the question they use the first-rounder they’re getting from the Rams on a QB. If he’s still on the board, Pickett would merit consideration at that spot. The charismatic gunslinger surged into national relevancy this year with 40 touchdown passes for the Panthers. He plays with a feisty competitiveness that should quickly win over teammates and has enough mobility to extend plays longer than a typical pocket passer.

Jaquarii Roberson, WR, Wake Forest: A slender, 6-foot-1 slot receiver, Roberson has been the top threat for the resurgent Demon Deacons. He’s followed up last year’s breakout campaign with another highly productive season, catching 62 balls for 1,024 yards and eight touchdowns. He excels finding space in zone coverage, but has also shown a knack for gaining separation against man coverage. He’s another receiver who will garner stronger interest in the draft with a good time in the 40-yard dash.

Michigan vs. Iowa , 8 p.m., Fox

Aiden Hutchinson, Edge, Michigan: Coming off a dominant 15-pressure, three-sack performance in Michigan’s upset victory over Ohio State, Hutchinson has thrust himself into position to potentially be the first player taking in April’s draft. He’s already set the school’s single-season sack record and is a constant source of pocket disruption.

Matt Hankins, CB, Iowa: A second-team All-Big Ten performer, the 6-foot, 185-pound cornerback set a personal-best with three interceptions this season, bringing his three-year total to six picks. Despite his 185-pound frame, he doesn’t shy away from physicality, throwing himself into run support, but his size is a hinderance when trying to press bigger receivers at the line of scrimmage.

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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