Detroit Lions 2017 NFL Draft Watchlist: Tennessee vs. Virginia Tech

Sep 26, 2015; Gainesville, FL, USA; Tennessee Volunteers defensive back Cameron Sutton (7) works out prior to the game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 26, 2015; Gainesville, FL, USA; Tennessee Volunteers defensive back Cameron Sutton (7) works out prior to the game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Each week in college football there’s an opportunity to see plenty of future NFL talent. These players should be on the Detroit Lions radar for the 2017 NFL Draft.

It’s never too early to be looking ahead to next year’s NFL draft. In this weekly piece, I’ll examine players from a marquee game, who could be potential draft targets of the Detroit Lions.

This week’s feature game will be Tennessee vs Virginia Tech, Saturday September 10th at 8:00 on ABC. This game will feature several players that will be in the NFL one day. But these players have skills that would fill a need for the Detroit Lions in 2017.

Tennessee Prospects

Derek Barnett
Edge rusher
6’2 3/4″, 257

Early draft projection: Round 1

A day one starter, Barnett registered double-digit sacks in each of his first two seasons. Barnett lined up almost exclusively at right defensive end his first two seasons. But, he played the entire 2016 opener against Appalachian State from the left side.

Biggest Strengths:

  • elite ability to stack and shed in run defense
  • can set the edge from either side of the line
  • above average awareness

Biggest Weaknesses:

  • not a quick twitch athlete
  • average initial step
  • average flexibility to bend the edge

Here’s a breakdown of every one of Barnett’s snaps from last week’s game:

With current Lions starting left defensive end Devin Taylor in a contract year, Bob Quinn will have his scouts look for possible replacements. Regardless of if he stays on the left side for the remainder of the season, Barnett will definitely be a player the Lions will be interested in.

Derek Barnett would be an ideal defensive end opposite Ezekiel Ansah. As an elite run defender he would thrive on the left side in Detroit. Even though he is undersized for what Teryl Austin prefers on the strong side, Barnett plays bigger than his size. He has a frame to add weight, but at the size he currently is, it allows him to be effective when rushing the passer.

This draft class has the potential to be deep with edge rushers. If Barnett declares early he will find himself near the top of the Lions draft board.

Cameron Sutton
Cornerback and kick returner
5’11 1/4″, 186

Early draft projection: Day 2 or 3

Going into his fourth year as a starter, Sutton has developed into a top-ten cornerback.  After a sophomore campaign where he had 16 passes defended, teams looked away from him during his junior season. Scouts will want him to find a way to be more involved as a senior.

Biggest Strengths:

  • quick closing skills
  • physical
  • above-average kick returner

Biggest Weaknesses:

  • inconsistent technique
  • run defense
  • missed tackles

You can never have enough cornerbacks in the NFL. This position will be heavily scouted by the Lions this season. Expect a top-ten guy like Sutton, who can also contribute on special teams, to be a player who draws a lot of interest.

Oct 31, 2015; Lexington, KY, USA; Tennessee Volunteers running back Jalen Hurd (1). Mandatory Credit: Bryan Lynn-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 31, 2015; Lexington, KY, USA; Tennessee Volunteers running back Jalen Hurd (1). Mandatory Credit: Bryan Lynn-USA TODAY Sports /

Jalen Hurd
Running back
6’3″, 240

Early draft projection: Day 2 or 3

Hurd led the Volunteer’s in rushing each of the last two seasons. His third year as a starter has gotten off to a solid start, rushing for 110 yards and recovering the game winning fumble in the end zone in the opener.

Jeff Risdon had this to say about the running back: “Hurd is a bulldozer at a listed 6’4” and 240 with a headfirst running style that makes him very difficult to tackle. His balance stands out, as do his hands and quick ability to transition from receiver to runner on screens.”

Biggest Strengths:

  • patience to wait for blocks
  • runs with toughness
  • soft hands

Biggest Weaknesses:

  • pad level
  • large target
  • struggles in small spaces

In what should be a loaded running back class, Hurd will be in the discussion as the groups best “Power Back”.  Because of his frame, Hurd will draw plenty of comparisons to last year’s Heisman Trophy Winner Derrick Henry. While Hurd doesn’t run with Henry’s punishing style, he has more versatility to his overall skill set.

A “Power Back” is something that is missing from the Lions roster. Pairing a player like Hurd with Ameer Abdullah, would give Detroit a true thunder and lightning combo. For an offense that struggles to run the ball consistently, Hurd is a player who will be on the Lions radar.

Jalen Reeves-Maybin
Weakside linebacker
6’0″, 225

Early draft projection: Day 2 or 3

Entering his senior season, this will be Reeves-Maybin’s third as a starter at the Will linebacker position. Originally recruited to play safety, many will be quick to label him as a “tweener” who doesn’t fit in with all NFL schemes. But, with the emergence of the “money linebacker” role, and teams coveting speed at linebacker, there is a spot for Reeves-Maybin in the NFL.

Biggest Strengths:

  • sideline-to-sideline range
  • closing speed
  • elite reaction timing

Biggest Weaknesses:

  • undersized
  • lacks power
  • needs to finish tackles more consistently

DeAndre Levy recently wrote a thought-provoking piece about his concerns about CTE and that he may have it. He is outspoken about his concerns over how the game of football has possibly impacted his life. Thus, it would be no surprise if Levy was the next player who decided to retire from the NFL earlier than expected.

Because of this uncertainly, it would be in the Lions best interest to be on the lookout for their next Will linebacker. Enter Jalen Reeves-Maybin.

Reeves-Maybin, like Levy coming out of Wisconsin, is an undersized linebacker who uses elite speed and instincts to impact games. His frame and consistency issues will drop him down some draft boards come April. But like Levy, he has potential to develop into a three-down starter for a team willing to allow him time to develop.

Virgina Tech Prospects

Sep 3, 2016; Blacksburg, VA, USA; Virginia Tech Hokies wide receiver Isaiah Ford (1) catches a touchdown pass against Liberty Flames. Mandatory Credit: Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 3, 2016; Blacksburg, VA, USA; Virginia Tech Hokies wide receiver Isaiah Ford (1) catches a touchdown pass against Liberty Flames. Mandatory Credit: Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports /

Isaiah Ford
Wide Receiver
6’1 1/4″, 190

Early draft projection: Day 2

Isaiah Ford is only a true junior but he is on pace to break several of Virginia Tech’s All-time receiving records this season. Ford is primarily a deep threat but his skill set allows him to be used near the line of scrimmage as well. The Hokies do their best to get him the ball in space as often as they can.

With a new offensive scheme and quarterback in place this season, it was thought that the road could be bumpy for Ford. But in the opening game against Liberty, Ford was once again a feature player, registering 11 receptions for 117 yards and a touchdown.

Biggest Strengths:

  • shows several different ways to gain separation
  • short area quickness
  • field vision
  • tracks the deep ball

Biggest Weaknesses:

  • body mass
  • strength
  • sub-par blocker

Ford’s draft cost will probably be too high for the Lions, especially if he continues to produce at a high level. Although, he will be on Detroit’s radar, as they will likely be looking to add a third wide receiver, assuming Anquan Boldin retires after the season.

Bucky Hodges
Virginia Tech
Junior (redshirt)
Tight End
6’6″, 245

Early draft projection: Day 2

A former duel-threat quarterback, Hodges transitioned to tight end during his redshirt freshman season. It didn’t take long to realize he made the right decision to switch positions.  His first year on the field, Hodges started 10 games and went on to earn Freshman All-American honors.

As a sophomore, Hodges had another 40 plus catch season, and proved he can be an impact player. CBS sports analyst, Rob Rang pointed out: “Hodges is a classic mismatch, towering over the defensive backs often asked to cover him and proving too fast for most linebackers.”

Biggest Strengths:

  • rare speed and agility for a tight end
  • ideal seem threat
  • physical at catch point

Biggest Weaknesses:

  • blocking ability is a work in progress
  • route running
  • still learning position

Check out this touchdown catch against Ohio State in 2015:

At first glance, Hodges would not typically be a prospect most would pair with the Detroit Lions because he is similar to Eric Ebron. But, the Lions have shown they are not afraid to add players with redundant skill sets.

Remember, it wasn’t too long ago that New England featured two athletic tight ends in their offense. So, with Bob Quinn’s experience of going against traditional player roles, don’t be surprised if Hodges is already on their radar.

Other Virginia Tech Prospects to watch:

Brandon Facyson (cornerback, #31), Leg injuries cost him most of 2014, but he managed to start all 13 games in 2015 despite several other lingering injuries. If he can stay healthy, his 6’1″ frame fits the profile many NFL teams desire. The redshirt junior could declare for the draft, but as of now he has a projected day three grade, meaning he’s likely to return to school.

Chuck Clark (free safety, #19) When Facyson returned from injury in 2015, Clark made the transition from cornerback to free safety. Clark took the position quickly and is now a defensive leader. If he can continue to develop at the position, he’ll have a chance to get drafted late on day three.

Next: Top 2017 NFL Draft Prospects From Michigan

Bob Quinn has proved that when it comes to the draft process, he is extremely thorough. He spent last offseason installing his approach to the draft and has set his expectations high. Because this is such a high-profile game, you can bet he will be assigning scouts to watch these players closely.

Previous Watchlists:
Alabama vs USC