Detroit Lions 2024 NFL Draft watch: Five prospects to watch for Week 1

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.

Josh Newton, CB, TCU (No. 2)

Colorado at TCU, 12 p.m., FOX

The Lions did well to plug holes in their secondary this past offseason, but at corner, it was mostly with short-term solutions, outside of a three-year deal for former Pittsburgh Steelers corner Cam Sutton. Although it appears Detroit may have something cooking with its UDFA scouting process after signing Steven Gilmore to the 53-man roster, it was somewhat of a surprise Detroit didn’t attack cornerback in the draft at all. The team’s other top corners, Emmanuel Moseley and Jerry Jacobs, are on expiring deals.

Newton (5-foot-11, 189 pounds), ranked as the No. 4 corner on Pro Football Focus and No. 5 by The Athletic’s Dane Brugler, figures to be the type of player the Lions will be looking for if they decide to draft a corner with one of their top picks next April. Brugler compares Newton’s play style to that of recent first-rounder Deonte Banks, a semi-popular first-round mock option for the Lions, because of his intensity and comfort level in press coverage. After a productive 2021, Newton in 2022 allowed a passer rating of just 56.4 on 68 targets and intercepted three passes.

Donovan Jackson, OG, Ohio State (No. 74)

Ohio State at Indiana, 3:30 p.m., CBS

The Lions’ lack of a long-term solution at right guard, plus another “Jackson” from Ohio State entering the last year of his deal, makes interior offensive line a pretty glaring need for Detroit entering the next draft cycle. Pro-Bowl left guard Jonah Jackson is poised for a pay raise in the final year of his deal and the jury is still out on whether the health of Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Graham Glasgow will be able to carry the right side this season.

Jackson (6-foot-4, 320 pounds) is a former five-star recruit and brings pure athleticism to the table. He’s thought to have improved significantly in pass blocking between his freshman and sophomore seasons and there’s hope that he’ll only become more consistent in his junior year. Indiana’s pass rush doesn’t present the world’s greatest challenge, but it’s a Big Ten challenge nonetheless.

Mekhi Wingo, IDL, LSU (No. 18)

LSU vs. Florida State in Orlando, Sunday, 7:30 p.m.

Seemingly overnight, the Lions have stockpiled a group of players on the defensive line who give them pretty good upside on the interior. Still, the young, intriguing pieces such as Alim McNeill, Brodric Martin, Levi Onwuzurike, Josh Paschal are currently just that — young, intriguing pieces. And while there’s plenty of belief those guys will round out into solid pros, the team is only one or two injuries away from the interior defensive line being a serious need.

Wingo (6-foot-1, 295 pounds), was a third-team All-America in his first season at LSU (2022) after transferring from Missouri the year prior, and he’ll be asked to step up his play a little bit more this Sunday with another top prospect, LSU defensive tackle Maason Smith, serving a hotly contested one-game suspension in this top-billing showdown. Wingo — projected as a mid-round pick at season’s start — primarily plays in the B gap, has blazing speed and is particularly steady in run defense but has shown ability to rush the passer, recording 13 combined pressures over a three-week stretch last season against Ole Miss, Alabama and Arkansas.

Chop Robinson, EDGE, Penn State (No. 44)

West Virginia at Penn State, 7:30 p.m., NBC

Because the Lions’ defensive line has been built on versatility, a lot of the things that were said about the interior line also apply to the edge. Once a position of great weakness, Detroit’s selections of Aidan Hutchinson, Josh Paschal and James Houston in last year’s draft, plus the emergence of John Cominsky, have given this unit sky-high potential. But contracts for top veterans Romeo Okwara and Charles Harris are expiring, the Lions like being able to put Paschal and Cominsky on the inside, and the reality is that you can never have too many top-tier pass rushers (just ask the Philadelphia Eagles).

Robinson (6-foot-3, 250 pounds), an All-Big Ten honorable mention a season ago, enters this season projected by many as a top-15 prospect after an incredible 2022 season that saw Robinson record five sacks, 34 hurries and a whopping 40 pressures. We may not yet know who West Virginia’s quarterback will be for Saturday’s game, but whoever it is, they can expect to be under heavy pressure for most of the evening.

Rome Odunze, WR, Washington (No. 1)

Boise State at Washington, 3:30 p.m., ESPN

The evolution of Detroit’s receiver room under general manager Brad Holmes has been an interesting one. The Lions had one of the worst groups in this century of football heading into Week 1 of the 2021 season. Entering 2022, there was a thought it could be one of their strengths, with the addition of a downfield threat in D.J. Chark and the selection of Jameson Williams in the first round of the draft. But as of right now, the big-bodied, X-receiver is a hole the Lions need to fill.

Odunze (6-foot-3, 215 pounds) fills that role quite nicely, and he fits into the Lions’ offensive philosophy that speed kills. The redshirt junior ranked 10th in the nation last year in receiving yards (1,145) and caught 75 passes (averaging 15.3 per catch) for seven touchdowns. Some continuity with quarterback Michael Penix Jr., a preseason watch-list nominee for a ton of major awards, should benefit both players as the Huskies look to leave their mark on the Pac-12.

Twitter/X: @nolanbianchi

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