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 2023 NFL Draft, based on projected needs.
The list aims 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.
Cooper Beebe, OL, Kansas State (No. 50)
Missouri at Kansas State, 12 p.m., ESPN2
Halapoulivaati Vaitai has two years left on his contract after this one, but it’s becoming increasingly clear he’ll be a cap casualty next offseason, particularly given his durability issues since coming to Detroit. The team can free up nearly $8 million in space with his release, which can be used to address other areas of the roster.
The Lions have a couple of alternatives on the roster, but barring a breakout year from Tommy Kraemer or Logan Stenberg, there’s room to upgrade the spot.
Beebe is a two-year starter who currently serves as the Wildcats’ blindside tackle. But even though most of his experience has come playing on the outside, he has taken snaps at both right and left guard. Plus, at 6-foot-4, 322 pounds, that’s his projected position at the next level.
On the inside, his length isn’t an issue, but the quickness and footwork he developed on the edge should serve him well when paired with his thick and powerful base.
Jordan Battle, S, Alabama (No. 9)
No. 1 Alabama at Texas, 12 p.m., FOX
With DeShon Elliott playing on a one-year prove-it deal, the Lions are likely going to be counting on either Ifeatu Melifonwu or Kerby Joseph to develop into the long-term solution opposite Tracy Walker. But given the opportunity in the draft, Battle potentially presents a safer option.
Battle is an aggressive, scheme-diverse safety who possesses a good frame for the position (6-foot-1, 206 pounds). You can put him in the box, where he’ll act almost like another linebacker in run support, but you can also feel comfortable knowing he has the range to defend half the field when aligned deep.
As a first-team, all-conference selection last season, he tallied 85 tackles and intercepted three passes, two of which he returned for touchdowns. There are some areas to clean up with his approach, including too many penalties and missed tackles tied to that aforementioned aggression
Jeremy Banks, LB, Tennessee (No. 33)
No. 24 Tennessee at No. 17 Pitt, 3:30 p.m., ABC
A converted running back, Banks has made an impressive adjustment to playing on the other side of the ball. In his second full season in that capacity last year, he racked up 128 tackles, including 11.5 behind the line of scrimmage and 5.5 sacks. It turns out the ability to navigate through traffic required at his previous position ports well.
And he’s not strictly a downhill player. He’s flashed some range in the second level when in coverage, breaking up four passes in 2021 and logging three interceptions during his college career.
Obviously, there’s going to be some needed development when he’s introduced to more nuanced and complex NFL offenses, but as a high-upside project with immediate special-teams potential, he’s more than worthy of a Day 3 pick.
Anthony Richardson, QB, Florida (No. 15)
No. 20 Kentucky at No. 12 Florida, 7 p.m., ESPN
A four-star recruit coming out of high school, Richardson has served as the Gators’ backup the past two seasons, with his lone start coming in a blowout loss to Georgia last year.
But in this year’s opener, Richardson quickly reminded everyone of his first-round talent, completing 17 of 24 passes without an interception, while running for 102 yards and three touchdowns on 12 carries. Most importantly, he led Florida to an upset win over No. 7 Utah, who many analysts had pegged as a sleeper playoff team.
Richardson is just starting to tap into his potential, and the dual-threat QB has a lofty ceiling. Plus, his 6-foot-4, 232-pound frame should give you some added confidence he can hold up to the added strain a mobile quarterback exposes himself to every time he escapes the pocket.
Presently, the Lions are fully committed to Jared Goff, but if he struggles to maximize the weapons put around him in 2022, there’s no reason the franchise shouldn’t be prepared to pull the trigger on adding a challenger in the draft. With a year to develop behind Goff, Richardson could be primed to take over in 2024.
Siaki Ika, DT, Baylor (No. 62)
No. 9 Baylor at No. 21 BYU, 10:15 p.m., ESPN
Imagine, if you will, the opposition lining up against the Lions on first down and staring across the line of scrimmage at 325-pound Alim McNeill and a 358-pound Siaki Ika. That’s a lot of beef.
The amount of space Ika eats up in the middle of the defense is the obvious, initial appeal. But don’t be confused; he’s surprisingly athletic — much like McNeill — and can still be a fit in Detroit’s read-and-attack scheme as evidenced by the 3.5 sacks and 33 total quarterback pressures Ika tallied last season.
On the hunt for girth up front, the Lions recently added Benito Jones off waivers from the Dolphins. And while it’s always possible for a waiver claim to develop into a long-term solution (see: Romeo Okwara), it’s not exactly likely. Ika not only solves Detroit’s need for some additional heft; it opens the door for the team to move around McNeill, who has flashed some potential when operating from the 3-tech spot, between the guard and offensive tackle.