Written by: JT Bowen
Calling Detroit home for a professional team often has its disadvantages — a smaller market, low attendance, and biting cold weather. However, one of the upsides of the Lions’ location is the wealth of college talent being consistently churned out by nearby universities. The two Big Ten titans — Michigan and Michigan State — are currently experiencing tough times, but still regularly garner the attention of prospects who go on to become NFL talent. However, a bevy of other schools in the state has historically produced high-caliber players, such as Antonio Brown, Matt Judon, and Eric Fisher.
Unfortunately, not many players from smaller schools in Michigan stand out as NFL-bound, unlike last year, where Maxx Crosby and Sean Bunting, from Eastern Michigan and Central Michigan, respectively, are carving out roles on their teams. So, this will be limited to Wolverines and Spartans, and maybe updated if a prospect emerges entering draft season.
#1) Ben Bredeson, IOL, Michigan
Michigan’s most highly-touted offensive prospect this season, the senior guard has only improved his draft stock after a great year. Bredeson stands at 6”5 with an ideal size for an interior lineman and fits the bill as a true mauler. Bredeson, named 2019 first-team All-Big Ten, could help bolster depth and add a future piece alongside former Wolverine Graham Glasgow and Frank Ragnow and should see his name called sometime on Day 2.
#2) Kenny Willekes, EDGE, Michigan State
Once seen as a potential first-rounder, Willekes’ 2019 campaign has likely not been as fruitful as hoped, which can be partially attributed to the atrocious Michigan State defense he has played on. However, Willekes’ still has immense value as a high-floor, high-motor pass rusher. A comparison that came to mind was Michigan defensive end Chase Winovich, due to the lack of top-tier athleticism but high aggression and relentless effort. Though he’s not among the top defensive ends in the class, Willekes is still a refined pass rusher and high-character individual that would add much-needed pass pressure on the defensive line that sorely lacks it.
#3) Donovan Peoples-Jones, Tarik Black (?), WRs, Michigan
Perhaps the talk ahead of the Michigan 2019 season was the talented trio of wideouts on the team. Two of those three named above headlined the positional group that was widely regarded as one of the most gifted corps in the country. Though Michigan’s season was largely disappointing, as well as each players’ individual years in terms of statistics, the trio’s athletic gifts and potential are bright. Thus far, DPJ is the only lock for the draft, with junior Nico Collins announcing his plans to return for his senior year, but Tarik Black’s entry into the transfer portal, should it not work out in his favor, could still give way to a late draft declaration.
#4) Lavert Hill, CB, Michigan
Next up is senior cornerback Lavert Hill, who built on a solid junior year with a respectable 2019 campaign. Hill’s main draw is his size, lacking length and weight. Hill is aggressive and a sticky cover man, with his game rooted in fundamental footwork and technique. Much like other Wolverine prospects, Hill has slid from his preseason slotting as a potential Day 1 pick to a later-round selection due to his lack of overwhelming impact on a lousy Michigan team. However, Hill could add sneaky depth and upside, similar to an Amani Oruwariye pick, in the back half of the draft for the Lions.
#5), Raequan Williams, IDL, Michigan State
Rounding out the prospects is Raequan Williams, one of the lone bright spots of a horrific 2019 campaign in East Lansing. Williams is an interesting player, with incredible highs and terrible lows. Consistency is a major issue, as he struggles with strong, well-placed hands and a quick first step regularly. However, he has prototypical size at nose tackle, a high football IQ, and is a regular disruptor in opposing backfields, all backed by four-year solid production in the Big Ten. With questions abundant for the Lions defensive line, such as Damon Harrison’s potential retirement, A’Shawn Robinson’s looming extension, and Mike Daniels’ future in Detroit, Williams would add a valuable piece for the future in Detroit.