Western's Willie Beavers sees draft stock soar

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

During his time at Western Michigan, left tackle Willie Beavers had multiple matchups with top-tier pass rushers.

As a sophomore in 2013, Beavers said he had the toughest test of his career against Buffalo’s Khalil Mack, who’s now with the Raiders and ranked second in the NFL in 2015 with 15 sacks. As a senior, the Broncos faced Ohio State, which pitted Beavers against Joey Bosa, who’s a likely top-five pick this year.

Those games, as well as others as a starter the past three years, should help Beavers get drafted in April, but some offseason workouts with another NFL player helped him improve, too.

A graduate of Southfield Lathrup, Beavers said he spent time the past three summers working with Lions defensive end Jason Jones, who went to the same high school. Former Lathrup coach Stephon Thompson introduced the two players.

“As a defensive lineman, he gave me a little bit of insight of what a defensive lineman is thinking when he’s going against an offensive lineman, so it was really helpful,” Beavers said during the Senior Bowl last month.

Western Michigan's Willie Beavers has sought the advice of Lions defensive end Jason Jones to get a leg up on making the transition from the college game to the pros.

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Beavers said he talks to Jones about once a month. A second-round pick out of Eastern Michigan in 2008, Jones knows how to make it from the Mid-American Conference to the NFL. After four years with the Titans and one with the Seahawks, Jones just finished his third season with the Lions. Jones, who also played basketball in high school, was the first Lathrup football player to have his jersey retired in 2014.

“He just tells me how it’s going to be in the NFL and just helped me get ready for it,” Beavers said.

And according to one NFL draft analyst, Beavers could hear his name called sooner rather than later in April. NFL Network’s Mike Mayock ranked Beavers last week as the fifth-best offensive tackle in the 2016 class.

CBS projects Beavers as a fifth- or sixth-round pick, but with his experience and size — 6-foot-5, 324 pounds — he’s an intriguing prospect.

Beavers will have more opportunities to impress NFL teams next week, but he hopes he did that at the Senior Bowl last month. Although he started three years at left tackle at Western Michigan, coaches had him working at right tackle as well as guard during practices for the All-Star game, and Beavers said he was open to the other positions.

“Let’s do it,” he said. “Wherever they wanted to see me. If they wanted to see me catching punts, that’s what I was going to do.”

Beavers thought he showed scouts he could play multiple positions during Senior Bowl week, and even though he knows switching to the right side is a challenge, he said he’s up for it.

Beavers spoke with the Lions, who need offensive line help, during the Senior Bowl, and he said it’d be “awesome” to play for his hometown team so all of his family could come to the games.

But, that dream is counterintuitive to his goal in April.

“I’m shooting for the first round, first pick, but it’s where the scouts see me,” he said. “I think proved myself out here this week (at the Senior Bowl) that I can play multiple positions. And I hope I raised my value.”