Mobile, Ala. — With the Detroit Lions forced to wait another two weeks to announce the hiring of Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia as the franchise’s next head coach, the team’s scouts and front office will head down to Alabama for the Senior Bowl.
And while some balls remain up in the air with the coaching staff, it’s still easy to look at the roster and identify needs. With that in mind, here are 10 players worth watching at the game, which airs 2:30 p.m. Saturday on the NFL Network.
Marcus Davenport, DE, UTSA
An athletic, rangy edge rusher, Davenport is listed at 6-foot-7, 255 pounds. In 11 games as a senior, he tallied 17.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. Most analysts consider him a raw talent, and having played a lower level of competition in Conference USA, the Senior Bowl will be an opportunity to show what he can do against upper-tier college offensive tackles.
Jaylen Samuels, RB, NC State
For an incoming coach who values versatility, Samuels is one of the draft’s intriguing Swiss Army knives. The 5-foot-11, 227-pounder worked as a hybrid running back and tight end, while also showcasing an ability to contribute on special teams during his college career. Last season, he tallied 76 receptions, while averaging 5.3 yards on 76 carries.
Will Hernandez, OG, UTEP
Projected as a Day 2 selection, Hernandez is a mammoth 6-foot-3, 330-pounder who could provide an immediate boost to Detroit’s ineffective ground game. Despite playing for a small school that didn’t win a game last season, Hernandez earned second-team All-American honors. The ultra-durable lineman started all 49 games at left guard during his college career.
Nathan Shepherd, DT, Fort Hays State
Part of the fun of the Senior Bowl is getting a closer look at off-the-radar prospects. Few college football fans have heard of Fort Hays State, a Division II school in Kansas. Shepherd, a 6-foot-5, 300-pound interior lineman, dominated at this level, earning the invite to Mobile. Let’s see how the literal big boy hangs with the figurative ones.
Rashaad Penny, RB, San Diego State
The NCAA’s leading rusher, Penny churned out a jaw-dropping 2,248 yards and 23 touchdowns on the ground last season. At 220 pounds, he has the build to operate between the tackles, while maintaining the elusiveness to make a man miss in the open field.
Uchenna Nwosu, OLB, USC
In the past, the 3-4 rush linebacker wouldn’t have fit the Lions defense, but if the new coaching staff is looking at a change, or at the very least, more schematic versatility, Nwosu would be in play. He primarily played at the line of scrimmage and showed a nice mix of rush and coverage skills, tallying 9.5 sacks and 13 pass breakups.
Harrison Phillips, DT, Stanford
It’s rare to see Phillips’ kind of production from the defensive tackle spot, but he managed to rack up 103 tackles as a senior, speaking to an ability to handle a heavily workload, as well as his nose for the football. Among those stops, 17 came behind the line.
Darius Phillips, CB, Western Michigan
The Lions could need some cornerback depth and Phillips, a Detroit native, has some appealing playmaking ability. According to Pro Football Focus, he allowed a passer rating of 39.6 when targeted in 2017, and he’s intercepted at least three passes each of the past three seasons. He’s also a dangerous return man, scoring five touchdowns on kickoff returns during his college career.
Taylor Hearn, OG, Clemson
While he doesn’t have the same accolades as Hernandez, Hearn quietly put together a solid college career at one of the nation’s best programs. As a pass blocker, he rarely let pressure through to his quarterback last season — one sack, two hits and six hurries, according to Pro Football Focus. A starter at left guard the past two years, the third-team All-ACC selection tallied 61 knockdown blocks in those 29 starts.
Armani Watts, S, Texas A&M
Tavon Wilson and Don Carey are free agents, and it’s unclear whether Quandre Diggs will make a permanent shift to safety as he enters the final year of his contract. Regardless, the Lions could use an injection of depth at the position. The compact 5-foot-11, 205-pound Watts brings some playmaking ability to the table with 10 interceptions and seven forced fumbles during his college career. He’s scheme versatile, playing both deep and in the box for the Aggies.