Free Press sports writers Dave Birkett and Carlos Monarrez react to GM Bob Quinn’s news conference and provide takeaways, Jan. 4, 2019.
Dave Birkett and Carlos Monarrez, Detroit Free Press
Alabama and Clemson meet Monday night in the College Football Playoff championship game we all knew was coming.
The two teams are loaded with NFL talent to the point that they could produce as many as seven first-round picks in April’s draft (and that’s not even counting quarterbacks Tua Tagovailoa and Trevor Lawrence, who are not yet draft eligible).
The Detroit Lions, with the eighth pick in the first round, could be in the mix for several of the game’s biggest stars. They held their first round of draft meetings last month, and will circle back for more evaluations on underclassmen once Monday’s game is done and all the early draft entries are in.
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Here’s a look at some of the top prospects in the game, and how they’d fit with the Lions.
DT Quinnen Williams
He’s a first-year starter who redshirted in 2016, but Williams was dominant enough this year that he could go No. 1 overall to the Arizona Cardinals. Williams has seven sacks and 17 tackles for loss this season and commands double teams nearly every play. The 6-foot-4, 295-pound nose tackle is a significantly better prospect than former Alabama linemen Da’Shawn Hand and A’Shawn Robinson, both of whom are off to nice starts in their NFL careers with the Lions. The Lions don’t have a need at defensive tackle, but Williams is too good a prospect to pass up if he somehow makes it to eight.
S Deionte Thompson
I gave Thompson to the Lions in my five bold predictions for this offseason last week, and he looks like the clear-cut No. 1 safety in the draft right now. He’s long and rangy at 6-2 and 196 pounds, and he’s forced six turnovers this season with two interceptions and four fumbles. The Lions return Quandre Diggs at one safety position for 2019, but have one starting spot up for grabs as Glover Quin is a potential cap casualty. Third-round pick Tracy Walker had a nice year in limited action, but Thompson has the makings of a true difference maker in the secondary. Safeties tend to slide a bit on draft day, but Jamal Adams at No. 6 two years ago and just earned second-team All Pro.
OT Jonah Williams
Bob Quinn loves drafting offensive linemen, so why not another one? Williams is considered the best offensive tackle in the draft. He’s 6-5 and 301 pounds, excels as both a run blocker and in pass protection, and has started every game the past three years while playing both right and left tackle. The Lions have taken offensive linemen in the first round two of the last three years (Taylor Decker and Frank Ragnow) and appear set at the tackle positions. But Williams would be a long-term upgrade over Rick Wagner at right tackle and he’s bound to go somewhere in the top 11.
TE Irv Smith
Smith is a borderline first-round prospect who might interest the Lions if he’s still on the board early on Day 2. The Lions had one of the worst tight end units in the NFL this season, and Quinn said he tried upgrade the position at the trade deadline. Smith is a catch-first prospect at the position who averaged 16.7 yards per catch this year. He’s a vertical threat who should show well at the combine, and he has great bloodlines as his father, Irv, played seven NFL seasons at tight end for three different teams.
Others to watch: DT Raekwon Davis, OLB Anfernee Jennings, RB Damien Harris
DE Clelin Ferrell
Ferrell might be the second-best defensive end in the draft, behind Ohio State’s Nick Bosa, and as such would fill a huge need for the Lions. He doesn’t have Jadeveon Clowney-like traits as a pass rusher, but he’s a polished edge defender who has 21 sacks and 36 tackles for loss the last two seasons. The Lions almost certainly will bring back restricted free agent Romeo Okwara, but Ziggy Ansah has probably played his last game in Detroit. There’s some question whether Ferrell will stay at right end in the NFL, but if the Lions feel he can, he could be in the mix at No. 8.
DT Dexter Lawrence
Lawrence won’t play Monday night because of a failed test for the performance-enhancing drug ostarine, but he’s projected as a first-round pick in April’s draft. He’s 6-4 and 350 pounds, and his girth and athleticism make him one of college football’s best run defenders. The Lions probably aren’t in the market for another nose tackle, but Damon Harrison is 30 years old and on the books for big money the next two years. If Lawrence slips because of his failed test, the Lions could pounce and field the largest defensive line in the league.
DT Christian Wilkins
The Tigers have three first-round picks on their defensive line, and it’s truly a toss-up which one is the best NFL prospect. Wilkins is a three-year starter and consensus All-American who projects best as a three-technique defensive tackle in the NFL. He’s an excellent interior rusher (5.5 sacks this year) and team leader who’s also played as an end at various points in his career. The Lions have three good interior linemen in Harrison, Hand and Robinson, and Wilkins isn’t the same caliber prospect as Alabama’s Williams so he might not be worth the value to the Lions high in Round 1.
Others to watch: WR Hunter Renfrow
Contact Dave Birkett: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. Download our Lions Xtra app for free on Apple and Android!