May 2, 2016
Lions GM Quinn drafts to rebuild
franchise from the trenches out
By KEITH GAVE
Detroit Lions General Manager Bob Quinn made his bones in the NFL as personnel specialist with one of the preeminent franchises in the history of the league. If he can transfer that expertise to a team that desperately needs it, there may finally be reason optimism after more than a half-century of futility.
The NFL media is famous for throwing stuff against the wall to see what will stick – hence those silly mock drafts that have become a staple in the absence of any real news heading into the draft. Now, within a few days of the conclusion of the three-day draft it’s fashionable to assign a letter grade to each team based on their success in the draft. The Lions averaged a solid B for their work at the draft table. But seriously, how can we predict how the 10 new Lions Quinn claimed in the draft will develop as they make the jump from college to professional football?
This much we do know, however: If you accept the notion that football games are won and lost in the trenches on either side of the line of scrimmage, then you have to believe the Lions have a chance to be better.
Quinn did much to reinforce the Lions crumbling infrastructure, especially an offensive line that allowed quarterback Matthew Stafford to be sacked 89 times over the past two seasons. He added two massive linemen in tackle Taylor Decker (6-foot-7, 310 pounds) with the 16th overall pick out of Ohio State and center Graham Glasgow (6-6, 307 pounds) out of the University of Michigan, in the third round.
In between, with the 46th overall pick, Quinn snagged defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson (6-4, 307 pounds), out of Alabama. This was the kind of gift the Lions historically don’t often get (or take advantage of) in the draft; Robinson was widely considered a top-20 player in this draft.
All three should provide immediate help on a roster that desperately needs it. And fourth-round pick (111th overall) safety Miles Killebrew, out of Southern Utah, comes with a reputation is big hitter who should develop into a strong safety or nickel linebacker after apprenticing on special teams until he’s ready for regular duty on defense. Killebrew was a four-year starter and, like Decker, a captain of his team.
Quinn could have left the draft table after those four feeling good about what he’d accomplished, but he had six more picks:
5th round (151st overall), guard Joe Dahl (6-4, 304 pounds), out of Washington State. Versatile enough to play guard or tackle.
5th round (169th overall), linebacker Antwione Williams (6-3, 245), out of Georgia Southern. A big hitter and blitzing specialist.
6th round (191st overall), quarterback Jake Rudock (6-3, 207), out of Michigan. Should compete for backup to Stafford.
6th round (202nd overall), defensive lineman Anthony Zettel (6-4, 277), out of Penn State. A Northern Michigan kid (West Branch) who can play end or tackle, and should see action on special teams.
6th round (210th overall), long snapper Jimmy Landes (6-1, 240), out of Baylor. Probably spells the end of a distinguished career for Don Muhlbach.
7th round (236th overall), running back Dwayne Washington (6-2, 226), out of Washington. A scatback who can catch the ball out of the backfield; coming off an injury-shortened season.
Clearly Quinn made size, strength, versatility and character his priorities in this draft as he tried to address the Lions’ many needs. No, he didn’t draft a wide receiver to try to fill the gaping hole left by the retirement of Calvin Johnson, or a cornerback, where the team is awfully thin. But the draft is just one source of talent. Among 14 undrafted free agents signed by the team after the draft was Baylor wide receiver Jay Lee, who caught 101 passes for 1,700 yards in three seasons with the Bears.
The Lions also can upgrade through NFL free agency and by adding players cut by other clubs. But the recent draft of college players was a good first start, Quinn said. He was especially pleased with his first three picks, linemen who averaged 6-6, 307 pounds.
“I’d say offensive line and defensive line, the bigger the better,” he said. “Absolutely, that was one of my goals going into the draft.
“Really well-rounded group,” Quinn added, describing this draft class. “We put a lot of time and energy into all of these guys and really felt, at the end of the day when we finished picking that we improved the football team, improved the depth of the team and improved the competition of the team and that was our goal going into it.”
For long-suffering Lions fans, that will have to be enough for now. The kind of change we’re hoping for won’t happen overnight, but we can take solace in the feeling that for the first time in what feels like generations, we have people who actually know what they hell they’re doing trying to build a real football team.