Detroit Lions 2024 NFL Draft watch: Five prospects to watch for Week 2

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 2024 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.

Xavier Worthy, WR, Texas (No. 1) & Kool-Aid McKinstry, CB, Alabama (No. 1)

No. 11 Texas at No. 3 Alabama, 7 p.m., ESPN

Up first, a double-dip!

The Lions squeaked out a win in Kansas City to open the season on Thursday night, but amongst a bevy of positive takeaways, it’s clear the Lions are desperate for a vertical threat in the offense. That role should be partially filled by the return of Jameson Williams, but it’s never a bad idea to refresh the top-end talent at that position.

Worthy (6-foot-1, 172 pounds), a one-time Michigan commit, is a former track star with top-end speed, acceleration and route-running. There are concerns about his frame, but Worthy has added more than 10 pounds since showing up on campus and still is just 20 years old. After catching 62 passes for 981 yards and 12 touchdowns as a freshman, Worthy’s efficiency dipped a tad last season, and he’s counting on a big junior year to keep him in the top of the draft class.

Worthy opened the 2023 season with a seven-catch, 90-yard performance last week in an easy win against Rice. He’ll have his first big test of the season on Saturday night, when he’ll likely be going head-to-head with the consensus top cornerback in the 2024 class, Alabama’s McKinstry.

Though McKinstry’s status as a potential top-10 pick may put him out of reach for a Lions team looking to contend, we’re including him here because it’s a good chance to watch him work. We all know how much Lions general manager Brad Holmes loves trading up for Bama boys.

A bit more on McKinstry (6-foot-1, 195 pounds): There will few players in this class with his pedigree. The former Alabama Mr. Football was named USA Today’s Defensive Player of the Year in his senior high school season, only to play in all 15 games as a freshman with the Crimson Tide and be named to the SEC All-Freshman team a year later and first-team All-SEC in 2022.

A press-man specialist, McKinstry allowed a passer rating of 57.9 over all of last season while giving up 37 catches for 352 yards and just one touchdown on 80 targets. By his standards, he struggled a bit in coverage during last year’s win over Texas, allowing four catches for 53 yards on six targets, so he should be particularly motivated to bring his A-game on Saturday night.

Javion Cohen, OG, Miami (No. 70)

No. 23 Texas A&M at Miami (Fla.), 3:30 p.m., ABC

Pro Bowl left guard Jonah Jackson still has not signed an extension to stay in Detroit, and the situation at right guard has no long-term solution outside the team’s hopes for rookie Colby Sorsdal, who was taken in the fifth round out of William & Mary this past spring.

Cohen will make his second start at Miami on Saturday after three seasons at Alabama. The 6-4, 305-pound guard and former four-star recruit took all 28 freshman snaps at left tackle before moving to left guard in 2021. He started 14 games as a sophomore and was named second-team All-SEC in his final season with the Crimson Tide.

Cohen, Pro Football Focus’ No. 42 overall prospect, is generally heralded for his ability in the run game, but his past experience as a tackle gives him intriguing upside as a pass protector. Like some previous mentions on this list, Cohen should have a good test awaiting him in Saturday’s matchup. He’ll spend some time facing off with Texas A&M defensive tackle McKinnley Jackson, who has split his time on the left and right side of the defensive line pretty equally.

Laiatu Latu, EDGE, UCLA (No. 15)

San Diego State vs. UCLA, 7:30 p.m., CBS

If you saw Latu (6-5, 265 pounds) out in street clothes, you might think he’s a basketball player or just your run-of-the-mill tall guy. He is not. Latu is a remarkably quick defender off the edge with exceptional length and general athleticism, plus a real ability to win with pass-rush moves.

In a Week 1 win against Coastal Carolina, Latu — currently the No. 13 prospect on PFF’s big board — recorded 10 pressures with three sacks in 31 pass-rush snaps. There is one big concern for Latu, and that’s his injury history. Latu retired from football following the 2019 season at Washington because of a neck issue, but returned last year at UCLA to record a team-high 65 pressures, 12½ tackles for loss and 10½ sacks. While his health is certainly something that plays into his evaluation as a prospect, his ability to return after two full seasons away from the game likely has scouts buzzing about his upside.

“He is a relentless pass rusher who uses his hands and body control to create angles to the quarterback, and he was one of the FBS’ most productive edge rushers last season despite coming off the bench. He’s not the same kind of physical freak that Dallas Turner or Jared Verse can be, but his discipline and refined skill set give him a high floor,” wrote The Athletic’s Chris Burke.

Kris Jenkins, DT, Michigan (No. 94) 

No. 2 Michigan vs. UNLV, 3:30 p.m., CBS

Between the ceiling of Alim McNeill and the development of Levi Onwuzurike and Brodric Martin, the Lions’ future need at defensive tackle is less clear than at other positions, and they’re certainly in no position to turn a good one down if he falls in their lap.

Jenkins (6-3, 305 pounds) is listed as The Athletic’s No. 4-ranked underclassmen at defensive tackle. His season is off to a solid start after he recorded two pressures and hurries apiece in Michigan’s season-opening win over East Carolina.

While there are concerns with Jenkins’ pursuit of ball carriers in space, his value in the middle comes from his strength, which shows up both when he’s rushing the passer — he recorded 20 pressures and two sacks last season — and shedding blockers to stop a run up the gut. He made 54 tackles in 2022.

nbianchi@detroitnews.com

Twitter/X: @nolanbianchi

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