5 NFL Draft Prospects Lions Fans Should Check Out
It’s November, and the Lions have already been nearly eliminated from the playoffs.
That being said, it’s time to start thinking about the future and what this franchise can do to set itself up for a more successful 2020 season and beyond.
The future of the franchise starts and ends with its homegrown talent.
You can argue that spending money in free agency plays a larger role --and it does -- but the best teams in the league still draft at an elite level.
For instance, Baltimore drafted Lamar Jackson and Mark Andrews.
Meanwhile, Seattle drafted Bobby Wagner and Russell Wilson, Pittsburgh drafted T.J. Watt and JuJu Smith-Schuster, Houston drafted J.J. Watt and DeAndre Hopkins and San Francisco drafted Nick Bosa and George Kittle.
The future of those franchises are all hopeful, and it has everything to do with their franchise cornerstones -- each of them homegrown.
With an opportunity to likely select inside the top 10 yet again, who should Detroit target?
Assuming the Lions select somewhere between No. 8 and No. 12, here’s an early look at some guys you can begin watching and picturing in Honolulu Blue going into 2020:
EDGE A.J. Epenesa, Iowa
The most dominant edge rusher in the NCAA since Week 6 has been Epenesa, who has been a first-round draft prospect since his monstrous 2018 season.
Although he started off slow this season, the Iowa edge defender has a pass-rush grade of 90.4 since Week 6.
That’s the highest grade among all Power 5 edge defenders in the country.
Detroit needs assistance in its pass rush, as it ranks just 29th in sacks per game.
Pairing Epenesa with Trey Flowers on the opposite side would be an immediate upgrade.
Strong safety Grant Delpit, LSU
Delpit is a strong-side safety that can defend the run AND the pass.
Sign the Lions up for that.
Quandre Diggs was shipped to Seattle. Tavon Wilson isn’t cutting it. And rookie Will Harris has allowed eight receptions on eight targets, coupled with a 48.9 run defense grade.
Delpit is a do-it-all safety that started the season as a top-10 pick on Pro Football Focus’s draft board.
However, since suffering an ankle injury in Week 8, he's dropped in the rankings, largely due to missed tackles.
All that being said, he’s still the top-ranked safety on every big board, and has a Jamal Adams-type ceiling that would pay dividends in the Detroit secondary.
Linebacker Isaiah Simmons, Clemson
Our trend of defensive targets continues with arguably the most pro-ready prospect in Simmons.
Here’s what PFF had to say about the Clemson product in its latest big board:
“Simmons is one part linebacker, one part safety, one part whatever you want him to be. He's got a freaky build at 6-foot-4, 230 pounds and freaky athleticism. He's broken up 13 passes on 756 coverage snaps in his career and picked off two others.”
If I were Detroit general manager Bob Quinn, I would hope Simmons is still on the board when the Lions are up to pick.
Forget the failure with former first-round linebacker Jarrad Davis.
Pairing the blitzing and tackling abilities of Jahlani Tavai with a rangy linebacker like Simmons that couples his freak athleticism with a sky-high ceiling is beyond intriguing.
And more than anything in the world, Detroit needs a linebacker it can trust.
Cornerback Kristian Fulton, LSU
If a player comes from the LSU secondary, there’s a chance the individual is going to be good professionally; hence, why Fulton is the second member of that group on this list.
Notable former Tigers in NFL secondaries include the following: Adams (Jets), Patrick Peterson (Cardinals), Tre’Davious White (Bills), Eric Reid (Panthers), Greedy Williams (Browns), Tyrann Mathieu (Chiefs), Donte Jackson (Panthers) and Jalen Mills (Eagles).
Each of those guys started in Week 11 for their respective NFL teams.
Fulton and the aforementioned Delpit seem to be on the same trajectory as the Tigers before them.
And the 30th-ranked Detroit passing defense desperately needs help.
All-Pro Darius Slay cannot do it all.
Fulton could be the answer to the No. 2 cornerback issues that have haunted the Lions all season long.
Fulton had a higher PFF grade than Greedy Williams last season, and only allowed 22 passing yards against Alabama’s illustrious passing attack two weeks ago.
He also presently has the highest forced incompletion percentage in college football.
A trio of Slay, Justin Coleman and Fulton has the potential to immediately comprise a lockdown passing defense.
EDGE Curtis Weaver, Boise State
Let’s take a look at another edge-rushing prospect, just in case Epenesa is off the board when Detroit is on the clock.
Weaver’s dominance this season has been outshined by only Ohio State’s Chase Young -- who, without a doubt, will be gone within the first three picks in next April's draft.
Per PFF, the Boise State product has 26 combined sacks and hits -- 14 sacks and 12 hits, respectively -- which are three more than anyone else in college football.
Weaver did leave last week’s game against New Mexico in a walking boot, however, and his injury status is unknown moving forward.
Assuming it isn’t serious, he’s arguably as good, if not better than Epenesa, with a ridiculous ability to evade blockers and get to the quarterback.
He, like any other edge defender, would fill a need opposite Flowers.