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Detroit Lions 2024 draft watch: Top players from Conference Championships

This Saturday’s Detroit Lions 2024 NFL draft watch examines the top players from this year’s Conference Championships.

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NCAA Football: Rutgers at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

This week’s Detroit Lions draft watch focuses on the top prospects from the 2023 Conference Championship games played on Saturday. For each game, we will take an expanded look at at least one player from each matchup and include article links to any players we have previously profiled.

Here’s you’re Saturday watch schedule:

  • MAC: Miami (OH) vs. Toledo at 12 p.m. ET on ESPN
  • BIG 12: Oklahoma State (18) vs. Texas (7) at 12 p.m. on ABC
  • MWC: Boise State vs. UNLV at 3 p.m. on FOX
  • SEC: Georgia (1) vs. Alabama (8) at 4 p.m. on CBS
  • AAC: SMU vs. Tulane (22) at 4 p.m. on ABC
  • Sun Belt: Appalachian State vs. Troy at 4 p.m. on ABC
  • ACC: Louisiana (14) vs. Florida State (4) at 8 p.m. on ABC
  • Big 10: Michigan (2) vs. Iowa (16) at 8 p.m. ET on FOX

Before we jump in, it’s important to recognize that the PAC 12 jump-started this year’s conference championships on Friday night, which featured a battle between two top-five teams: Washington (3) and Oregon (5). While this game won’t be included in our Saturday watchlist, there were still plenty of players from that game that we featured throughout the season including...

Alright, let’s look closer at this week’s players that Lions fans should be watching on Saturday.

MAC: Miami (OH) vs. Toledo

Previously profiled players from this game include Toledo CB Quinyon Mitchell.

Brian Ugwu, DL/EDGE, Miami, OH (redshirt junior)
6-foot-3, 250 pounds

An excerpt from Pro Football Network’s Ian Cummings draft sleepers:

“Despite being just 6’3″, 246 pounds, Ugwu was able to push the pocket from 3-technique with his power and play strength. And on the edge, he showcased enough burst to surge into contact and rip around the corner. After losing Dominique Robinson to the 2022 NFL Draft, the RedHawks have another EDGE to watch.”

How he’d fit with the Lions:

A position versatile pass rusher who lined up all over Miami’s defense, Ugwu plays with athleticism and violence. For a Lions team that should be turning over every stone this offseason looking for pass rushers, the team might want to send a scout to Ford Field to take a gander at the MAC conference championship.

Big 12: Oklahoma State (18) vs. Texas (7)

Previously profiled players from this game all play at Texas: WRs Adonai Mitchell and WR Xavier Worthy, TE Ja’Tavion Sanders, DT T’Vondre Sweat, and Jalen Catalon (from 2022)

Jaylan Ford, LB, Texas (senior)
6-foot-2 12, 242 pounds

An excerpt from Anthon Sports Kyle Crabbs’ profile of Ford:

“Linebackers with size who can hit and cover seem to check all the main boxes, no? Ford has good instincts in coverage, and his ability to attack the football is undeniable. There’s room for growth in his angles to the football and his work in run support, but the coverage skill set is hard to ignore as the NFL continues to trend up as a passing league.”

How he’d fit with the Lions:

Linebacker surely won’t be a priority for the Lions this offseason, but linebackers who can cover are worth considering because of how rare they tend to be in the NFL. If his run defense drops his stock into a reasonable range, at some point, his coverage skills are too good to pass up.

Collin Oliver, Pass rushing LB, Oklahoma State (junior)
6-foot-2, 235 pounds

An excerpt from The Athletic’s Diante Lee’s Big 12 pre-season draft prospects ($):

“He’s been a speed-rusher type off the edge, looking to win an angle and bend the corner on the way to the QB. Oliver made an immediate impact as a freshman in 2021 (11.5 sacks, 15.5 tackles for loss) in Jim Knowles’ defense, which is known for moving players around before and after the snap. His play earned him Freshman All-American and conference Freshman of the Year honors. [...] This spring, Oliver moved to a hybrid edge/outside linebacker role in the Cowboys’ defense and, given his youth and raw ability, he has a chance to take his game to another level in 2023.

How he’d fit with the Lions:

Another potential pass rushing linebacker for the Lions to consider on Day 3 of the draft.

MWC: Boise State vs. UNLV

George Haloni, RB, Boise State (senior)
5-foot-10, 210 pounds

An excerpt from Pro Football Network’s Ian Valentino’s draft profile of Holani:

“His quickness and ability to maximize rushing lanes between the tackles are defining and valuable. NFL offenses love jitterbugs who can be efficient in limited touches and help as pass catchers. We’ve seen more powerful offenses rotate specialists in favor of investing in expensive one-back systems.

“Playing in a more open offense can help Holani be more dynamic and mitigate the weaknesses of playing in a conservative offense where he’s the focus. He should prove to be an early contributor thanks to his experience but has a late-round grade due to size and creativity limitations.”

How he’d fit with the Lions:

Holani makes this list because he’s arguably the best prospect in this game but I’m not entirely sure he’ll end up with a draftable grade come April.

SEC: Georgia (1) vs. Alabama (8)

Previously profiled players from Georgia in this game include: WR Ladd McConkey, IOL Sedrick Van Pran, NT Nazir Stackhouse, and CB Kamari Lassiter

Tate Ratledge, RG, Georgia (redshirt junior)
6-foot-6, 323 pounds

An excerpt from PFF’s Max Chadwick’s pre-season IOL preview:

“His 85.6 pass-blocking grade on true pass sets ranked second among all guards in the country. The redshirt sophomore also only allowed a pressure on 1.4% of his pass-blocking snaps, the third-lowest rate for Power Five guards.”

How he’d fit with the Lions:

A bully in the trenches at right guard for the Bulldogs, Ratledge has two years of starting experience for the defending champions and can win as a pass and run blocker. Right now, he looks like a borderline top-100 player, which could result in him returning to school for another year to try and improve his draft stock.

Previously profiled players from Alabama in this game include: EDGE Dallas Turner, EDGE/SAM Chris Braswell, CB Kool-Aid McKinstry, CB Terrion Arnold, and DB/STAR Malachi Moore

Jermaine Burton, WR, Alabama (senior)
6-foot-0, 192 pounds

An excerpt from Anthon Sports’ Kyle Crabbs’ profile of Burton:

“Burton has the ability to be a more impactful pro player than he has been a college receiver. His opportunities in college to live up to his raw potential have been marred by multiple modest passing offenses, but when you extrapolate his speed, ball skills and physicality, it’s apparent that he can be a viable top-three wide receiver for an NFL offense.”

How he’d fit with the Lions:

While not as high profile as some of the receivers to come out of Alabama in recent years, Burton—who originally played for Georgia—is a reliable option that could grow into a role in the NFL.

AAC: SMU vs. Tulane (22)

Michael Pratt, QB, Tulane (senior)
6-foot-2 12, 219 pounds

An excerpt from Anthon Sports’ Kyle Crabbs profile of Pratt:

“Pratt has plenty to like in his game. He’s tough, he’s a good decision-maker, and he has bright flashes of anticipation and placement in the intermediate area of the field. He can be a timing-and-rhythm passer, and he has the baseline physical tools to be a sufficient NFL starter in the right environment.”

How he’d fit with the Lions:

Ok, before you get upset about a quarterback being on this list, it’s worth noting that there may not be another draftable prospect playing in this game—or at least one I’m not currently aware of. Pratt looks like a Day 3 prospect, but if he happens to slide out of the draft, he’d be a player I would encourage the Lions to pursue.

Sun Belt: Appalachian State vs. Troy

Javon Solomon, EDGE, Troy (senior)
6-foot-2, 245 pounds

An excerpt from CBS Sports’ Josh Edwards Group of five pre-season superlatives:

“Solomon recorded 4.5 sacks in head coach Jon Sumrall’s first season with the program. The Trojans went 12-2 and Solomon played a big role in establishing the culture on defense. Listed at 6-foot-2, 245 pounds, the Florida native has size to hold up at the point of attack and speed to attack the corner. Solomon is able to build speed quickly and has great waist bend to turn the corner.”

How he’d fit with the Lions:

Yet another pass rushing specialist to consider on Day 3.

ACC: Louisiana (14) vs. Florida State (4)

Previously profiled players from Florida State in this game include: WR Keon Coleman, WR Johnny Wilson, and EDGE Jared Verse

Jamari Thrash, WR, Louisville (redshirt junior)
6-foot-0, 185 pounds

An excerpt from The Athletic’s Dane Brugler’s 10 underrated transfers:

“Thrash went over 1,000 yards last season at Georgia State, but his arrow is pointing up with his production in Jeff Brohm’s offense for the Cardinals. With his route speed, he makes getting behind the defense look easy. Thrash is one of only three FBS receivers with 400-plus yards and a per-catch average of better than 20.0 yards.”

How he’d fit with the Lions:

While Thrash is not on the same level as the FSU receivers, he is the Cardinals' top offensive weapon and can break open a game for them. His best path to the NFL will be as a deep threat early in his career with the upside to develop into more.

Big 10: Michigan (3) vs. Iowa (16)

Previously profiled players from Michigan in this game include WR Roman Wilson, TE AJ Barner, RG Zak Zinter, DT Kris Jenkins, SAM Jaylen Harrell, CB Mike Sainristil, S Rod Moore, as well as an overview of every draftable prospect from THE GAME.

Most of Iowa’s top prospects are injured, including former Michigan prospects QB Cade McNamara and TE Erick All, as well as TE Luke Lachey. So I am cheating a bit here profiling defensive back Cooper DeJean—who is also injured—but since he is a potential first-rounder, he deserves some love.

Cooper DeJean, DB, Iowa (Senior)
6-foot-1, 207 pounds

An excerpt from The Athletic’s Dane Brugler’s Updated Top 50 ($):

“(Iowa) turned him into a slot corner with safety skills, though, and the results have been great. He’s tough enough to fit the run in the box and fast enough to run with most receiving threats. He’s more of a zone corner than a press corner, but he’s definitely a versatile piece at age 20.”

How he’d fit with the Lions:

At first glance, a lot of the things that make DeJean so much fun to watch is that he will remind Lions fans of Brian Branch. And while some teams will want to deploy DeJean in the slot, just like the Lions do with Branch, Detroit would need to find another spot for him.

I’d prefer DeJean at safety in the Lions’ scheme and with the league’s perceived value of slot/safeties—see Branch’s draft in 2023—it’s possible he is still on the board when the Lions pick in the first round. The question will then become, will they take what they learned with Branch and grab him for their secondary, or will they risk they can get him later, as they did with Branch?

Michael Barrett, LB, Michigan (senior)
6-foot-0, 239 pounds

An excerpt from NFL Draft Diamonds Jimmy Williams profile of Barrett:

“An athletically versatile linebacker that can put stress on the LOS off the edge and drop back into coverage with ease, coupled with solid man coverage vs TEs and RBs. (Scheme Fit) 4-3 or 4-2-5 defense dropping into coverage as a hybrid linebacker coming down in the box and covering TEs in the slot and RBs leaking out from the backfield.”

How he’d fit with the Lions:

A three-star “athlete” in high school who was considered to be a dual-threat quarterback by several colleges, Barrett chose Michigan, who hoped to develop him into a modern-day cover player.

Barrett, a sixth-year senior, was initially buried on the depth chart early in his career in Ann Arbor but worked hard for opportunities on special teams while looking for a home on defense. He developed his traits to a level that the Wolverines eventually gave him a shot to start at their hybrid safety/linebacker VIPER position (made famous by Jabrill Peppers), then moved him to inside linebacker after a change at defensive coordinator. Eventually, Barrett earned a starting linebacker job, was named a team captain, and has developed into an emotional leader for this potential playoff team.

For the Lions, Barrett would likely hold a similar role as Jalen Reeves-Maybin, who has the ceiling to develop into a special teams captain with cover linebacker depth skills.

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