Those who watched the Detroit Lions know that they need all the help they can get on the defensive side of the ball. Many have heard of the top talents surrounding this year’s NFL Draft, but who are the guys that are going to slide and provide value in the mid-to-late rounds? Here are six underrated defensive prospects that I believe could offer great value to the Lions:
Jaleel Johnson, DL, Iowa | 6-foot-3, 309 pounds
I wasn’t entirely high on Jaleel Johnson the first time I watched his film, and I still wouldn’t say I’m his biggest fan, but if he continues to be slotted in the late-third round by draft outlets then some lucky team is going to get great value for this powerful stud.
Jaleel isn’t an explosive player by any means. In fact, he was often one of the last players to react to the snap in multiple games watched, which is a sizable concern to me when you’re lined up right next to the ball. However, Jaleel has strong hands and a powerful punch to jolt offensive linemen out of their stance, while his natural strength and consistently great pad level makes him a terror at the point of attack. He’s a formidable DL prospect that can play both 1-tech and 3-tech if needed.
Howard Wilson, CB, Houston | 6-foot-1, 185 pounds
Here’s a name that no one is currently talking about, mostly because you won’t find any tape on him over at Draft Breakdown (unless you do some investigative work and watch him through his teammate’s tape or opposing QBs). That’s a shame, because Wilson is one of my favorite CB prospects in this year’s class.
Wilson is thin, but a great athlete with springs and great COD. Played mostly off-man and zone in Houston's scheme. pic.twitter.com/fuXD9azAdt— Alex Reno (@alex_reno) February 15, 2017
Wilson is a fantastic athlete and a stud in off-man coverage, much like his former teammate William Jackson III was. His footwork and ability to break on the ball at a moment’s notice is very impressive, and he has a knack for timing the ball and attacking it at its highest point, causing nightmares for opposing receivers.
At a listed 6-foot-1, 185 pounds, the NFL Combine is going to be very important for Wilson, as he’s going to need to prove that he can pack on some extra weight as he heads to the pros. His medical checks will also be important, as he suffered a season ending ACL injury in 2015, but managed to play a full season as a redshirt sophomore in 2016. If everything checks out, I could see Howard going as high as the tail end of the first round, but as of now, most draft outlets have him as a late Day 2-early Day 3 pick.
Ahkello Witherspoon, CB, Colorado | 6-foot-3, 190 pounds
Another cornerback prospect that has flown completely under the radar is Ahkello Witherspoon, who has been overshadowed by his counterpart, Chidobe Azuwie, throughout his time with the Buffaloes.
Here's Ahkello breaking up a possible John Ross TD. His feet are super quick for a 6'3 corner. Rail thin at 190 pounds, though. pic.twitter.com/zwjlHQCvfx— Alex Reno (@alex_reno) February 10, 2017
Witherspoon possesses impressive top end speed and has some of the quickest feet I’ve seen from a 6-foot-3 corner. If he wasn’t such a timid run defender and pile inspector, I bet he’d be getting a lot more buzz right now and if he can add some weight without losing his speed, teams are going to fall in love with him. He would be an absolute steal in the third round or later.
Derek Rivers, DE, Youngstown State | 6-foot-4, 250 pounds
Derek Rivers owned this right tackle's soul. pic.twitter.com/moovCBeUsD— Alex Kozora (@Alex_Kozora) February 13, 2017
Explosiveness? Check. Hands? Check. Bend? Check.
Derek Rivers is a stud pass rusher that will certainly get knocked for playing against Missouri Valley competition, but his tape will flash complete dominance when it comes to disrupting the backfield and he is arguably one of the most explosive EDGE prospects in this year’s class.
Jalen Reeves-Maybin, LB, Tennessee | 6-foot-0, 230 pounds
I talked a bit about Reeves-Maybin back in late-January in my seven-round mock for the Detroit Lions. Here’s what I had to say:
Reeves-Maybin had a very impressive junior season for the Volunteers tallying 105 total tackles (14 for a loss), six sacks, four pass deflections and two forced fumbles. He had an unfortunate end to his 2016 campaign, however, suffering a season-ending left shoulder injury.
As of now, Reeves-Maybin is widely considered to be a later round prospect, as he is a tad undersized for a linebacker (6-foot-0, 230 pounds), but he does share some similarities to what many believed the Lions saw in Miles Killebrew. Reeves-Maybin has the ability to play both safety and linebacker, though Tennessee decided to keep him mostly as a weak-side linebacker. He has the speed and athleticism, along with some decent cover skills to line up as a slot corner, and an impressive ability to weave his way through defenders and shoot the gap as a blitzing linebacker.
Reeves-Maybin is currently holds a sixth-round grade from CBS Sports and is almost nowhere to be found on Fanspeak’s big board, which is a little nuts if you ask me. He’s a very talented player that had to deal with an unfortunate injury history, but remains great value in the later rounds.
Rayshawn Jenkins, S, Miami (FL) | 6-foot-1, 220 pounds
Jenkins is your typical raw prospect with a quintessential frame for his position, which means a lot of people, including myself, are going to fall in love with his potential. Jenkins is more of a box safety than a free safety and has a thumper’s mentality.
I love Jenkins’ aggressive nature on defense, however, it can also get the best of him at times, as he is prone to taking poor angles and overpursuing the ball carrier.
I just really respect Rayshawn Jenkins mentality.. pic.twitter.com/TAcozQtNSQ— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) February 21, 2017
You’ll most likely see Jenkins listed somewhere between the third and fifth round. I believe that he would be great value for any team looking for a box safety if he makes it past the third round.