Detroit Lions 2023 NFL Draft watch: Five prospects to watch for Week 14

Detroit News

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.

Steve Avila, OL, TCU (Jersey No. 79)

No. 3 TCU vs. No. 10 Kansas State, noon, ABC

The Lions figure to be in the market for some interior offensive line depth, particularly a piece with the potential to develop into a starter to replace Halapoulivaati Vaitai, a potential cap casualty this offseason.

Listed at 6-foot-4, 330 pounds, Avila brings a sturdy frame and proven versatility. His primary starting experience comes at center, but he’s been working as a left guard for the Horned Frogs this season and has made spot starts at right guard each of the past two seasons.

A physical run blocker and reliable pass protector, he’s allowed just 33 total pressures and four sacks in more than 1,000 pass blocking snaps throughout his collegiate career. At his size, and possessing less-than-ideal length, he can use some refinement with his technique when pulling, but he’s athletic enough to handle assignments that call for him to get into the second level.

Desjuan Johnson, DL, Toledo (No. 1)

Ohio vs. Toledo, noon, ESPN

A Detroit native who played his high school ball at East English Village Prep before committing to Toledo, Johnson has a tweener body type similar to Detroit’s 2022 second-round pick Josh Paschal.

Consistently solid against the run throughout his time with the Rockets, Johnson’s pocket disruption has taken off in 2022. In 12 games, he’s tallied 5.5 sacks to go with a whopping 40 quarterback pressures. Including those sacks, he’s registered a tidy 15.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage.

Capable of playing inside and out along a defensive front, he’ll need to answer questions about whether he has the ability to grow his play strength to handle the jump in competition from the Mid-American Conference to the NFL. Respectable showings against Ohio State this year and Notre Dame last year suggest the potential is there.

Darnell Washington, TE, Georgia (No. 0)

No. 1 Georgia vs. No. 14 LSU, 4 p.m., CBS

The Lions have received decent production from the team’s tight end room since trading T.J. Hockenson, but the group lacks a go-to option. The hope is that last year’s fifth-round pick, James Mitchell, grows into that role, but there’s room to add talent in the draft.

Washington already has a grown-man frame and grown-man strength. Listed at 6-foot-7, 265 pounds, he’s established himself as a powerful and effective run blocker, and he’s approaching 700 snaps in that role. As a pass catcher, he offers a wide catch radius across the middle with reliable hands. In 2022, he’s recorded a career-best 25 receptions for 403 yards, while putting just one catchable pass on the ground.

Dorian Williams, LB, Tulane (No. 2)

No. 18 Tulane vs. No. 22 UCF, 4 p.m. ABC

Tulane has been one of the country’s biggest surprises. A year after going 2-10, the Green Wave has a chance to win its conference championship by avenging an earlier loss to Central Florida.

A big part of Tulane’s success has been its defense, which is allowing under 20 points per game. And Williams is a key cog in the middle of that unit, logging nearly 700 defensive snaps. Playing primarily off the ball, he’s proven to be an all-around asset, contributing more than 100 tackles, four sacks, 19 quarterback pressures and two interceptions.

A long strider, Williams shows good range in the second level. One of the biggest knocks will be his size. The 6-foot-2 linebacker has steadily bulked up through his college career, but still weighs closer to 230 pounds.

Beyond the defensive potential, Williams is an experienced special teamer, playing at least 146 snaps with those units each of his four seasons. That should help him contribute early during his NFL career.

K.J. Henry, edge, Clemson (No. 5)

No. 9 Clemson vs. No. 23 North Carolina, 8 p.m., ABC

Henry doesn’t get anywhere close to the attention of teammates Myles Murphy and Bryan Bresee, who both are potentially top-10 picks in April. That lack of attention likely carries over to the way opponents try to block Clemson’s defensive front, but the fact of the matter is Henry is the one pacing the team with 48 quarterback pressures.

Of course, it merits noting that’s a lot of pressure for only a handful of sacks. Henry has 3.5 this season and only 13.0 for his five-year career. Yet he’s more than just a pass-rusher. He’s also taken a big step forward as a run defender in 2022, going from above-average to excellent. And he’s always been a solid tackler, missing three or fewer stops each of the past three seasons.

In the middle rounds, you’re looking at a player who is more high floor than ceiling, who can come off the bench and be counted upon to set a hard edge and regularly condense the pocket with power on passing downs. .

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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