Detroit Lions 2024 NFL Draft watch: Five prospects to watch for Week 3

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.

Jer’Zhan Newton, DT, Illinois (No. 4)

No. 7 Penn State at Illinois, Noon, FOX

As thrilled as the Lions must be with their first-round picks thus far, and as solid as the defensive line was against Kansas City in Week 1, Jalen Carter’s dominance through the first two weeks of his NFL career — he set a rookie record for pressures by a defensive tackle (six) in Week 1 — is a good reminder that there’s a difference between solid and elite. While he might not have Carter’s pedigree, Newton has a chance to be elite.

Newton (6-foot-2, 295 pounds), an AP Preseason All-American, is the No. 10 player on Pro Football Focus’ big board after a monster sophomore season in which he led Power Five defensive tackles in pressures (59) and led Illinois — the nation’s top scoring defense a year ago — in tackles for loss (14), sacks (5½) and hurries (11) to become a unanimous second-team All-American and All-Big Ten first team selection.

The strength of Penn State’s offensive line lies in tackle Olu Fashanu, a fellow projected top-10 pick (with potential to go top five). Though Newton projects as an interior lineman at the next level, Illinois uses him on the edge quite a bit — displaying some of that positional versatility teams love — and he’ll be under a microscope whenever he’s going against Fashanu, which makes this a great viewing opportunity. Plus, at home facing the No. 7 team in the country, whether or not he can rise to the occasion will be great intel.

Johnny Wilson, WR, Florida State (No. 14)

No. 3 Florida State at Boston College, Noon, ABC

You remember “Pimp My Ride,” the MTV show? The basic crux was fixing and customizing old beat-up cars to a most dramatic extent, the end result looking like something out of an adolescent fever dream. Even if you haven’t seen the show, you might remember the memes. Oh, you like ice cream? We put a full-service Dairy Queen in your backseat. 

Well, Wilson is basically the product of a “Pimp My Ride” approach to building an X receiver, which is currently one of Detroit’s only apparent needs on either side of the ball. Oh, you want a big body on the outside? How about a 6-foot-7, 237-pound receiver with elite high-point ability that can run after the catch and is a nightmare to tackle in the open field? 

Wilson’s draft-eligible season has been outshined a bit by the arrival of Keon Coleman, the Michigan State transfer who caught nine passes for 122 yards and three scores in a marquee Week 1 win against LSU. But with Heisman hopeful quarterback Jordan Travis, it’s only a matter of time before Wilson gets rolling. He caught 43 passes for 897 yards — 22 of those receptions were for 20 yards or more — and five touchdowns last season en route to being named second-team All-ACC. 

Based on his traits alone, Wilson would be the perfect addition to a receiving corps led by Amon-Ra St. Brown and Jameson Williams in 2024 and beyond.

Bralen Trice, EDGE, Washington (No. 8)

No. 8 Washington at Michigan State, 5 p.m., Peacock

The two biggest contracts set to fall off Detroit’s books next offseason are owned by Romeo Okwara and Charles Harris. While it’s possible Detroit looks to free agency — or even brings one of those guys back — to fill those holes, it feels likely Brad Holmes would also like to continue stacking that position through the draft, and he didn’t take any edge rushers in 2023.

With the Lions projecting to pick somewhere in the 20s next year, Trice (6-4, 274 pounds) has potential to be a match if he can build on his 2022 season. Trice, who redshirted as a freshman in 2019 and opted out of the COVID-19 year, became a regular starter last season and led the NCAA with 70 pressures to go along with nine sacks and a pass-rush win rate of 26.2%.

Trice is still looking for a game this season where he reaches last season’s level of dominance, and Washington’s first big road game feels like a prime opportunity for him to announce his arrival.

Jason Marshall Jr., CB, Florida (No. 3)

No. 11 Tennessee at Florida, 7 p.m., ESPN

Cornerback can be a fickle position. Truly elite guys are hard to find; confidence comes and goes like a tsunami, turning standouts into pumpkins and bottom-of-the-roster guys into bona fide starters. Case in point: Out of the five cornerbacks on Detroit’s roster, Cam Sutton (third round, 2017) was the only one to be drafted. On the flip side, of the four corners to make first- or second-team All-Pro in 2022, two (Sauce Gardner and Pat Surtain II) were top-10 picks, one (Jaire Alexander) was drafted 18th, and the other (James Bradberry) was a second-rounder in 2016.

Marshall (6-1, 203 pounds), a former five-star who was ranked No. 2 at his position out of high school, likely falls somewhere in the middle; he’s the No. 88 player on PFF’s big board but projects as high as a second-round pick, boasting scheme versatility and physicality. Marshall burst onto the scene with a stellar freshman season at Florida, allowing just 14 receptions for 186 yards, two touchdowns and a passer rating of 59.8 on 38 targets.

The overall production took a step backward last season as the secondary around him fell apart, and he might be facing another uphill battle this season as the only returning starter. Marshall has given up 93 yards and a touchdown on four targets. Though Tennessee hasn’t been slinging it like it did with Hendon Hooker, Marshall should be in the spotlight for this rivalry showdown.

Aubrey Burks, S, West Virginia (No. 2)

Pitt at West Virginia, 7:30 p.m., ABC

Early on in the 2023 season, it sure does look like safety is the Lions’ deepest position group. The sky is the limit for the ball-hawking Kerby Joseph entering Year 2, and rookie Brian Branch, who had a pick-six of Patrick Mahomes in the opener, played so well at the nickel in training camp that it pushed C.J. Gardner-Johnson to free safety and forced last year’s defensive captain, Tracy Walker, out of the starting lineup entirely. But with Gardner-Johnson on a one-year deal and Walker’s future unclear, there’s going to be a long-term need somewhere on the back end.

Burks (5-11, 204 pounds) was looking like an early-to-mid-round pick after making AP All-Big 12 second team in his sophomore year with 66 tackles and 4½ tackles for loss, and he gets all the compliments you typically hear about Dan Campbell guys. “He’s an extension of the coaching staff,” WVU assistant Dontae Wright said (per WV News).

To be frank, he had a brutal start to the 2023 season. The junior defensive back was responsible for allowing 115 yards and two touchdowns on five targets (three receptions) in a prime-time matchup against Penn State in the opener and could really use a bounce-back performance to avoid slipping out of the draft conversation entirely. In what’s likely to be one of the most entertaining games of the season, look for Burks to play a big role on the back end in one way or another.

Twitter/X: @nolanbianchi

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