This Saturday’s watch list of college football (October 1) includes a handful of draft-eligible quarterbacks facing off in head-to-head matchups, a rematch of the 2021 Big 10 championship, and a couple SEC safeties that the Detroit Lions should be paying attention to.
If you missed any of our previous draft watch installments, you can revisit them here:
- Malik Cunningham (Lousiville) vs Phil Jurkovec (Boston College), 12:00 p.m. ET on ACCN
- Bryce Young (Alabama) vs K.J. Jefferson (Arkansas), 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS
- Devin Leary (NC State) vs D.J. Uiagalelei (Clemson), 7:30 p.m. ET on ABC
- Tanner McKee (Stanford) vs Bo Nix (Oregon), 11 p.m. ET on FoxSports1
If you happen to have the ACC Network, Cunningham and Jurkovec are a pair of sixth-year seniors with NFL backup potential. Young vs Jefferson is the quarterback battle of the day and if you’re going to watch just one of these games, this is the one. Leary is a bit of a rising sleeper, while Uiagalelei is still trying to prove he belongs. Mckee is a potential top-5 quarterback in this draft cycle and could push for first-round consideration, while Nix is a recognizable name, but not a ton beyond that.
Alright, let’s get to this week’s non-quarterbacks that Lions fans should be watching.
Michigan (4) at Iowa at 12:00 p.m. ET on FOX
In a rematch of the 2021 Big 10 Championship game, the Wolverines head to Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City for a mid-day contest. The best matchup of draft-eligible prospects features the Michigan running game against the Iowa linebackers.
Blake Corum, RB, Michigan (junior)
5-foot-8, 200 pounds
A bowling ball of explosion, Corum is a threat to take it to the house every time he touches the ball. He’s a workhorse in college—last week he carried the ball 30 times for a career-high 243 yards and two scores—but he will likely be best suited as a complementary RB2 weapon out of the backfield in the NFL.
Lions fit: The Lions’ scheme relies on backs who can get downhill in a hurry and they lack a home-run hitter beyond the oft-injured D’Andre Swift, whose contract expires after the 2023 season. The Lions should be in the market this season for a back that has Corum’s skill set.
An excerpt from Draft Network’s Damian Parson’s profile of Corum:
Corum impacts the game in multiple ways as a runner, receiver, and kick returner. He uses his height to his advantage to hide behind blockers on slower-developing plays before exploding into the second level of the defense. It is difficult to out-leverage him due to his stature and low center of gravity. He possesses loose, oily hips to change direction quickly. Corum presents a big-play threat whenever he touches the football—he had multiple 50-plus-yard runs in 2021. He has an incredible work ethic.
#Michigan RB Blake Corum is one of the better RB prospects in the country.
Ball of energy as a runner. Pairs his loose hips and quick feet with his eyes. Also has strength in his lower body + pass-catching skills. pic.twitter.com/6jwbDw2TMr
— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) September 24, 2022
Jack Campbell, LB, Iowa (senior)
6-foot-4, 248 pounds
Campbell is a 6-foot-4, 248-pound instinctive linebacker who reads gaps with proficiency and runs downhill, regularly locating the ball carrier. Does that sound like someone Lions coaches would like? Campbell is just an average athlete, which could cause him to slide to Day 3—though he has Day 2 potential—but that is right in the range the Lions typically target linebackers.
Lions fit: Campbell is a traditional MIKE linebacker and would pair perfectly next to Malcolm Rodriguez, who plays at the WILL. Derrick Barnes is a terrific athlete and there’s a lot to like about his game, but three games into his second year and his defensive snaps are decreasing, suggesting the Lions would be wise to strongly scout this linebacker class.
An excerpt from The Athletic’s Dane Brugler’s linebacker preview:
“An easy player to appreciate, Campbell plays with a high degree of urgency and confidence that is apparent on tape. He senses what is about to happen and trusts his vision to take him to the football, which allows him to play at full speed. As a run defender, Campbell hits gaps with purpose and thump, but he also shows enough control to drive through the ball carrier. In coverage, he shows a good sense for angles and proximity.”
Alabama (2) at Arkansas (20) at 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS
The Lions are still in the developmental stages with their safeties and could be in the market to add more depth to the position. If they are, Alabama at Arkansas game features some of the top safeties in this draft cycle.
Jordan Battle, S, Alabama (senior)
6-foot-0, 210 pounds
Loaded with starting experience at Alabama, Battle has a lot of translatable experience to the NFL. That experience helped develop his instincts and vision, and he has the positional range to play both safety spots. He plays aggressive—sometimes overaggressive—and pursues downhill with purpose.
Lions fit: Battle has a lot of traits that are going to be appealing for the Lions, but he will need to expand his range for the Lions to consider him with a high pick.
An excerpt from The Athletic’s Dan Brugler’s safety preview:
“A smart run defender, Battle stays assignment-sound and takes accurate pursuit angles to put himself in position to make tackles. In coverage, Battle sniffs out routes and reacts without hesitation.”
Brian Branch, S, Alabama (junior)
6-foot-0, 195 pounds
Branch is a physical safety who spends most of his time as a hybrid defender who can play strong safety, nickel defensive back, and as a sub-package linebacker. He leans on his instincts and physicality, but his timing may be his best attribute.
Lions fit: More of a matchup weapon rather than pure safety in the Lions scheme, he is the type of player that teams draft when they are adding flare to the defense rather than a player with a static position. If Kerby Joseph or Ifeatu Melifonwu pan out as a long-term starter next to Tracy Walker, Branch could be an interesting addition to expand their coverage as a third safety.
An excerpt from the Draft Network’s Keith Sanchez’s profile on Branch:
“Branch appears to be an instinctive and fearless player, which allows him to roam around the box even though he is undersized as a box player. Branch has good acceleration. Once he triggers, he can close to ball carriers quickly and deliver an effective tackle. Branch also appears to be a high-motor player, and even if the play design is away from him, he is still capable of making the play.”
Bama SAF Brian Branch is a dude! I love the patience to read the play before committing. “Slow until you know”!
— Full-Time Dame (@DP_NFL) September 10, 2022
Jalen Catalon, S, Arkansas (redshirt junior)
5-foot-10, 200 pounds
Catalon is an instinctive free safety with the range to drop into the box, possesses top-notch ball skills, and can be a punishing tacker, though that did lend itself to several missed tackles and a shoulder injury in 2021.
Unfortunately, another shoulder injury popped up in the 2022 opener, which will require surgery, and he will miss the rest of the season. Christina Long from the Fort Smith Times Record had the details:
“After suffering an injury in the season opener against Cincinnati, Catalon did not play in Arkansas’ 44-30 win over South Carolina on Saturday. Coach Sam Pittman confirmed after the game that Catalon will have reconstructive surgery on his shoulder.”
Lions fit: Like with Branch, I like Catalon as a potential matchup safety with hybrid range and capabilities in the Lions scheme. That shoulder injury will need. a thorough examination at the NFL Combine.
An excerpt from the Draft Network’s Kyle Crabbs profile of Catalon:
“Catalon has a fair amount of versatility; I’ve seen a lot of Cover 3, some quarters coverage, and subpackage looks that drop him down onto the second level of the defense as a sub-linebacker. I think he’s tailor-made for those kinds of roles in the NFL with his play style, particularly the shallow zone roles and playing closer to the line to account for a gap in the run game. Catalon is a blur running to fit the box in the run game and offers some flashes of Budda Baker with his violent finishes and confident tackles.”