Sept 22, 2012; Tallahassee, Florida, USA; Florida State Seminoles defensive end Bjoern Werner (95) tackles Clemson Tigers wide receiver Sammy Watkins (2) during the second half of the game at Doak Campbell Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports
The Detroit Lions 2014 NFL Draft Watch List gives you college football players to watch who could be on the Lions’ radar next spring.
Orange Bowl: Clemson vs. Ohio State – 8:30 p.m. (EST) – ESPN
Here are five prospects to watch for in tonight’s match-up:
Sammy Watkins (#2), WR – Clemson
Amazingly enough, the Lions may yet again be in the market for a wide receiver and should he choose to leave school early, Watkins may be the most talented at the position in the 2014 draft. After bursting onto the scene as a freshman with 82 receptions, 1219 yards and 12 touchdowns, Watkins was arrested in May of 2012 for possession of marijuana. Suspended for the first two games of his sophomore season, Watkins’ production took a dive as he finished the season with 57 receptions, 708 yards and three touchdowns. With the departure of former teammate DeAndre Hopkins to the NFL, Watkins entered his junior season as the primary receiver in the potent Clemson passing attack led by star QB Tajh Boyd. Possessing prototypical size (6-1, 205), Watkins is a former track champion with outstanding stop/start explosiveness and the speed to separate from second level defenders. His ability to get behind coverage and attack the ball in the air makes him a big play threat. Though he’s not the most refined route runner, his ability to create with the ball in his hands makes him effective on screens and smoke routes. If the Lions are comfortable with his character evaluation, Watkins will receive strong consideration by the franchise in the first round.
Vic Beasley (#3), DE/OLB – Clemson
Vic Beasley wasn’t a household name coming into the season, but college football fans are becoming familiar with this rising star who finished the season with 12 sacks (tied for fifth best in FBS) and 19 tackles for loss (tied for sixth best in FBS). His excellent production in limited snaps last season (18 tackles, eight tackles for loss, a team-high eight sacks, eight quarterback pressures, two pass breakups, and one caused fumble) had him on the radar screen of NFL scouts. A former tight end and hoops star, Beasley possesses exceptional quickness off the snap, quick hands and fluid lateral movement to side step pass blocks and disrupt plays behind the LOS. Though he possesses good length (6-3) and long arms to prevent opposing linemen from getting inside his frame, it’s his ability to convert speed to power that is most surprising, considering his lack of ideal bulk for the position (228 lbs.). While his lack of size may limit him to being primarily a situational pass rusher in a 4-3 front, his athleticism provides him the versatility to be productive standing up in a 3-4, and teams are always looking for players who can get to the QB.
Ryan Shazier (#2), WLB – Ohio State
The ultra-productive junior defender ranked among the Big Ten’s Top 10 in five different defensive stat categories in 2012, with 17 tackles-for-loss, 115 total tackles (second in the league), five sacks and 12 passes defended. Shazier improved on those gaudy stats this season with 123 total tackles, 22 tackles for loss, seven sacks and four forced fumbles through 12 games. At 6-2, 226 lbs., Shazier lacks take-on size and can be overpowered by offensive linemen versus the run. However what he lacks in size, he makes up for in effort with sideline-to-sideline range and the play speed to chase down ball carriers in backside pursuit. Shazier also flashes ability in coverage, with fluid hips and quick feet to play man-to-man on backs and tight ends. A three-down backer who can make plays all over the field and rush the passer effectively on blitz packages, the Lions could use a player with Shazier’s skill set. However, it is unlikely they would draft a linebacker with size limitations in the top of the first round, and he’ll probably be off the board when they pick in the second round.
Bradley Roby (#1), CB – Ohio State
A three-year starter, Roby was a semifinalist for the Thorpe Award in 2012 when he was among the nation’s leaders in passes defended with 19 and again ranks among the top ten this season with 16. Roby has outstanding speed (4.39) with the burst and fluidity to stay in tight coverage all over the field. He’s physical at the line of scrimmage and does a good job of staying on a receiver’s hip pocket, making it tough for them to create separation. Though he lacks prototypical size (5-11, 193 lbs.) and struggles to win jump balls downfield versus bigger receivers, Roby has the quick-twitch athleticism to be a productive slot receiver at the next level. Though he may miss the game tonight due to a knee injury, Roby still has time to establish himself as a first round prospect if he tests well in pre-draft workouts.
C.J. Barnett (#4), SS – Ohio State
A three year starter with over 200 career tackles, Barnett is a heady defender who is able to overcome his lack of elite athletic characteristics with the natural instincts to consistently put himself in a position to make plays. Possessing good size (6-0, 205 lbs.), Barnett is aggressive in run support and a productive tackler inside the box. In coverage, he has enough range to get to the sideline from two-deep, but is a bit stiff in man coverage and lacks the fluidity to cover quicker slot receivers or turn and run with vertical threats downfield. Barnett would be an ideal mid-to-late day pick, who has the size and instincts to be a solid backup and good special teams player.