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.
Will Levis, QB, Kentucky (No. 7)
No. 7 Kentucky at No. 14 Ole Miss, 12 p.m., ESPN
Jared Goff is playing well. Really well, in fact. Still, it’s probably a bit much to suggest he’s playing at a $40 million-per-year level, which is where things are trending when it will be time to start talking contract extension. Realistically, that could be as soon as next year.
That’s the ongoing debate surrounding Goff — whether he’s the franchise’s future as much as he’s the franchise’s present. Because if that’s what the Lions believe, that means they need to be ready to invest around 20% of the team’s salary cap in him.
Alternatively, while they have multiple first-round picks to work with this offseason, they can draft a far cheaper, first-round quarterback to build around. And given the team looks like it will be too successful this season to be drafting in the top-3, Levis might be the most likely, most-talented option.
After starting his collegiate career at Penn State and barely seeing the field, Levis has served as Kentucky’s starter for the past two seasons. Physically gifted, he offers a solid frame at 6-foot-4, 230 pounds with a prototypically strong arm.
Levis is athletic, but not necessarily a traditional dual-threat, preferring to lean on his arm over his feet, although he did rush for a respectable 376 yards and nine touchdowns in 2021. As a passer, his inexperience showed up in his decision-making. He completed 66% of his throws with 24 touchdowns last season, but also had 13 interceptions.
So far this season, the accuracy is up, as is the per-pass production, but he’s still looking at a turnover a game, which is an issue worth monitoring. Ole Miss isn’t exactly a defensive powerhouse, but they’ve been playing well enough to present a tough challenge for the quarterback prospect, even pitching a shutout against Georgia Tech two weeks earlier.
Jack Campbell, LB, Iowa (No. 31)
No. 4 Michigan at Iowa, 12 p.m., FOX
Malcolm Rodriguez has been an absolute find for the Lions, but the team still needs more long-term pieces at linebacker, particularly with Alex Anzalone and Chris Board working on expiring contracts.
Campbell, a second-year starter and captain for the Hawkeyes, was a tackling machine in 2021, racking up 140 stops in 14 games, while also flashing some playmaking ability in coverage with six pass-breakups and two interceptions.
Listed at 6-foot-5, 243 pounds, he offers unique height and length in the second level. And while that size can occasionally present some leverage issues when attempting to shed blocks, he’s a sure tackler who has missed fewer than 10% of his attempts during his college career.
With a potent ground game led by Blake Corum and a passing attack that could feature tight end Erick All (assuming the injury that sidelined him last week isn’t a long-term issue), Campbell looks to be the key cog in proving Iowa’s vaunted defense can hold up against a high-octane attack.
Kyle Patterson, TE, Air Force (No. 88)
Navy at Air Force, 12 p.m., CBS
Admittedly, we’re digging deep into the prospect rankings here, with Patterson missing the cut on many lists. But if you’re looking for a ready-made blocker in the later rounds, or even as an undrafted free agent, he fits the bill.
The son of former Packers defensive lineman Shawn Patterson, Kyle returned to the field in 2022 after a knee injury sidelined him much of the 2021 campaign. He’s still offering minimal contributions in the passing game, but the ability to have an impact in that area, particularly on third down for the 6-foot-6 target, is present and capable of being further developed.
With Detroit intent on running the football, and willing to incorporate two- and three-tight-end formations to accomplish it, there’s room to upgrade the blocking in that room. Training-camp success story Shane Zylstra is currently holding down that spot, but he’s more of a catch-first option who has struggled when asked to block early this season.
Henry To’oTo’o, LB, Alabama (No. 10)
No. 2 Alabama at No. 20 Arkansas, 3:30 p.m., CBS
We might as well double-up on linebackers, given Detroit’s need.
In his second season at Alabama after transferring over from Tennessee in 2021, the 6-foot-2, 230-pounder is bolstering his draft stock with a strong start to the season. Through the Tide’s first four games, he’s been outstanding against the run, racking up 23 tackles, including three behind the line. So far in 2022, he’s been a sure-tacker, missing just one stop after having some struggles in that department earlier in his collegiate career.
As a situational blitzer, To’oTo’o has generated pressure at an impressive clip, hurrying or hitting the quarterback on six of his 21 pass-rush snaps. And in coverage, he’s allowed a respectable 60 yards the nine times he’s been targeted, with half of that production coming on one catch.
Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas (No. 5)
West Virginia at Texas, 7:30 p.m., FS1
The Lions have continued questions at the running-back position with Jamaal Williams’ contract expiring at the end of the season and D’Andre Swift unable to stay healthy. If offensive balance is going to remain a priority — which it unquestionably will as long as Dan Campbell is the coach — the team should seriously consider aggressively adding talent to the backfield equation.
Robinson is the top back in this class, and arguably the only one who would merit consideration in the latter stages of the first round. The 6-foot, 215-pounder has averaged 6.4 yards per carry during his three seasons at Texas, while finding the end zone a total of 29 times, including eight scores through four games in 2022.
He also possesses pass-catching ability, hauling in 49 passes without a drop across 23 games.
Showcasing burst, power and lateral agility, Robinson is a tough tackle. In 2021, he forced 79 missed tackles, and he’s on pace to blow that figure out of the water this year. Across three seasons, he’s averaging nearly 5.0 yards AFTER contact.