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Detroit Lions 2024 draft watch: 8 players to watch, including DT Jer’Zhan Newton

This Saturday’s Detroit Lions draft watch examines eight players to watch over Labor Day weekend.

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 05 Michigan State at Illinois Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Detroit Lions draft watch is back with an eye on the 2024 NFL draft. Week 1 of the college football season is unique in the fact that it occurs before the NFL season begins, allowing teams to spread out their games a bit more, including putting several top 10 teams in the national spotlight.

In this installment of our draft watch, we will look at four games over three days, all in primetime:

  • West Virginia at Penn State (7), Saturday, September 2 at 7:30 p.m. on NBC
  • Toledo at Illinois, Saturday, September 2 at 7:30 p.m. on Big Ten Network
  • LSU (5) at Florida State (8), Sunday, September 3 at 7:30 p.m. on ABC
  • Clemson (9) at Duke, Monday, September 4 at 8:00 p.m. on ESPN

Let’s get a closer look at this week’s players that Lions fans should be watching.

West Virginia at Penn State (7)

Zach Frazier, IOL, West Virginia (Senior)

6-foot-3, 310 pounds

An excerpt from The Athletic’s Dane Brugler’s interior offensive linemen preview ($):

He is a technician with his hands, but he also has the foot quickness and grip strength to latch and drive in the run game or cut off angles in pass protection... Though he has the athletic movements to reach/pull, his competitive toughness and football IQ were just as evident. Frazier has the foundation of traits to earn starter-level grades from NFL teams.

How he’d fit with the Lions:

At this time, the Lions only interior offensive linemen under contract after this season are Frank Ragnow and Colby Sorsdal, which puts the position group firmly in the scouting window. The Lions love interior offensive linemen capable of playing both guard and center, as evidenced by the fact that Ragnow, Jonah Jackson, and Graham Glasgow all played both in college. Frazier fits the mold, as he has one year of starting experience at left guard and he is entering his third year at center for the Mountaineers.

Chop Robinson, EDGE, Penn State (junior)

6-foot-3, 255 pounds

An excerpt from Brugler’s edge rusher preview ($):

Some pass rushers require a runway to get going, but Robinson accelerates 0-to-60 in a blink. With his athletic twitch, he has the initial burst to threaten the corner or attack the chest of blockers for speed-to-power opportunities. Robinson’s athletic traits and understanding of leverage make him a tough player to corral.

How he’d fit with the Lions:

Penn State has produced a lot of NFL starting-level defensive linemen in recent years and Robinson looks to be the next in line. A lot of credit for producing wave after wave of defensive linemen goes to former defensive line coach John Scott Jr., who now holds the same role with the Lions. Under Scott’s tutelage, Robinson generated 40 pressures in 2022 as a rotational reserve and is just scratching the surface of his potential. If anyone in the NFL will have a firm grasp on Robinson’s developmental ceiling, it’ll be Scott—which is a big advantage for Detroit.

Toledo at Illinois

Quinyon Mitchell, CB, Toledo (Senior)

6-foot-0, 200 pounds

An excerpt from The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman’s Freaks List:

One of the country’s top defensive backs, the Florida native was a Walter Camp All-American last year who had four interceptions and two pick sixes in one game and set a Rockets season record with 20 pass breakups in 2022. At a sturdy 6-0, 200, Mitchell bench-pressed 225 pounds 21 times, squatted 44 and had a top speed of 23.58 MPH on the GPS this summer. He also ran in the 40 in the 4.3s twice for NFL scouts this spring.

How he’d fit with the Lions:

In recent years under general manager Brad Holmes, the Lions have tended to prefer corners with two main skills: speed and ball skills. Mitchell emphatically checks both of those boxes. Add in the fact that he is an aggressive tackler in run support and he should have the Lions scouts' attention.

Jer’Zhan Newton, DT, Illinois (Senior)

6-foot-1 1/4, 300 pounds

An excerpt from Brugler’s defensive tackle preview ($):

There are plenty of positive takeaways from watching Newton’s tape. His hand swipes are violent; he has a natural radar for the football; he plays with tremendous hustle to chase from the backside. But the No. 1 takeaway is how quickly he shoots gaps and gets upfield. With his initial twitch from a low position, Newton puts blockers in a compromised position and affects the backfield.

How he’d fit with the Lions:

Arguably the top interior defender in this draft class, Newton’s ability to penetrate and cause interior disruption would provide the Lions with something that has been missing from their unit. But it’s Newton’s balance in productivity—consistently efficient against the pass and run—that makes him worth a first-round pick.

LSU (5) at Florida State (8)

Malik Nabers, WR, LSU (junior)

6-foot-0, 195 pounds

An excerpt from Brugler’s wide receivers preview ($):

There is plenty to like about Nabers’ skill set. He is explosive and tough (especially against press) with competitive ball skills to pluck the ball in tight coverage. But his gliding acceleration and the way he shifts gears as a route runner really stood out on his 2022 film. I don’t expect Nabers to run a blazing 40-yard dash during the pre-draft process, but his film shows outstanding play speed and route-running control.

How he’d fit with the Lions:

A multi-faceted offensive weapon that would perfectly complement the Lions' young offensive skill players, and arguably solidify the group for the future. The Lions have a lot of versatile offensive skill players, but Nabers’ game would give them another option with a seemingly unlimited ceiling. It’d be expensive to secure him, but Holmes has shown a pattern of targeting weapons early in the draft, using the No. 12 pick in each of the last two drafts to select running back Jahmyr Gibbs and wide receiver Jameson Williams.

Jared Verse, EDGE, Florida State (Senior)

6-foot-4, 252 pounds

An excerpt from Brugler’s edge rusher preview ($):

With his fast and powerful hands, Verse consistently punches above his weight class. He has the necessary athletic traits to work the corner and shoot gaps, but the power through his frame and violence through his hands are what help unlock him when rushing the passer or stopping the run.

How he’d fit with the Lions:

The Lions have really taken to heart the phrase “You can never have enough pass rushers”. This year, the Lions kept seven edge rushers on their initial 53-man roster, and three of them are playing on expiring contracts: starter Charles Harris, as well as bothers Romeo and Julian Okwara. If the Lions do not bring Harris back in 2024, Verse—who may be the top edge rusher in this class—is an ideal complement to Aidan Hutchinson.

Clemson (9) at Duke

Nate Wiggins, CB, Clemson (Junior)

6-foot-2, 185 pounds

An excerpt from The Athletic’s Nick Baumgardner’s preview of Wiggins ($):

Long, tall and in control of his body pretty much at all times, Wiggins — a standout prep wide receiver — covers a ton of ground with quick feet and terrific arm length. He showed a solid understanding of routes and got better as the year wore on in 2022, and he held up well in man coverage, especially against Drake Maye and North Carolina in the ACC title game. He needs to show more consistency, though, as we should see more pass breakups and forced incompletions from a guy with his tools.

How he’d fit with the Lions:

The Lions heavily invested in their secondary this past offseason but their long-term stability at outside corner is lacking. Jerry Jacobs and Emmanuel Moseley are in contract years, leaving a starting role potentially up for grabs in 2024. Stacking the corner draft board this time of year can be challenging—as the position historically seems to fluctuate throughout the season—but Wiggins is on the short list of corners who have first-round potential.

Graham Barton, LT, Duke (Senior)

6-foot-5, 311 pounds

An excerpt from PFF’s Max Chadwick’s feature profile on Barton:

Barton was Duke’s best player during its magical 2022 season. He was the only Power Five tackle who earned 85-plus grades both as a pass-blocker and run-blocker while his 17 big-time blocks (PFF’s highest-graded blocks) were five more than any tackle in the country. Barton’s play as a junior likely would’ve gotten him selected within the first couple rounds of the 2023 NFL Draft if he declared.

How he’d fit with the Lions:

While Barton is entering his third season as the Blue Devils starting left tackle, he also started six games at center as a freshman, and several teams—including the Lions—could project inside in the NFL. As you saw in the video clip above, Barton is a tremendous pulling lineman and would fit the mold of what the Lions look for in their interior lineman. Barton is fast, athletic, technical, and violent in space, and I’m here for it.

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