The 2016 NFL draft is days away and the Detroit Lions enter with first-year general manager Bob Quinn at the controls.
The draft represents the optimal opportunity to strengthen a roster, something that is universally recognized around the league with Quinn being no exception.
“I think the draft is very important. I think it’s the lifeline of your team,” said Quinn. “You have to do well in the draft… As we all know, there’s multiple avenues to acquire players. Is the draft the most important one? Probably, but it’s not the only one.”
The other key avenues Quinn is referring to would be free agency – which has seen much of the market picked over – and trade – which would require the Lions to relinquish some of their own assets as well. Of course, waiver-wire claims and undrafted free agents come into play but certainly the draft is unrivaled in terms of player acquisition.
In the toolbox, the Lions are equipped with 10 picks, including at least one selection in every round. These 10 picks will be crucial to the path this team takes over the next few seasons with the top pick – No. 16 overall – representing the primary focus for outside observers.
Although how the Lions use each of their picks will play a key role into the enhancement of the roster, the first selection’s importance could be especially critical when you consider the roster needs of high-value positions – such as pass rusher and offensive tackle.
Pass protectors have been most commonly linked to the Lions – especially after their come-to-nothing courting of Russell Okung. The Lions have not done much to address offensive tackle this offseason and have immediate uncertainty at right tackle with long-term question marks at both tackle positions.
Quinn recognizes the value in the position.
“The tackle position is protecting your franchise quarterback for most teams. So, I think it’s a position that’s hard to find,” he said. “I mean, just go by their height and their weight, like how many 6-7, 6-5, 320-pound guys are walking around Earth? I mean, not that many, right?
So, you kind of go into it like, how many guys are there in college football that play that position at a high level? Really, when you look at it there’s many more skill players, receivers, corners, running backs walking around than there are guys that are 6-5, 6-6, 6-7 that can move their feet. So, I think it’s just supply and demand.”
You can’t argue with the microeconomics, which is evidenced by the fact that the Lions may be forced to go with the fourth or fifth option at the position with their selection at No. 16.
The top-two prospects at offensive tackle are Laremy Tunsil and Ronnie Stanley – both are sure to be gone when the Lions pick. Jack Conklin occupies the top of the next tier and also seems to be unlikely to fall to the Lions with the Tennessee Titans – picking one slot ahead of Detroit – likely to scoop him up if he’s available.
Even if Conklin is available, there are some detractors of his game and he is not a sure thing.
Beyond Conklin, the options are Taylor Decker, Germain Ifedi and Jason Spriggs. All three come with question marks and could be argued as reaches at No. 16.
Perhaps the Lions could pass on this position with the top prospects gone and target some developmental value in the following rounds.
“I think the entire offensive line there’s good, quality depth from the first round all the way to the seventh,” said Quinn of the draft’s depth of talent at the position. “So, I think this year’s draft is probably much like others. I think you’ve got to really kind of – When you evaluate the draft board, you’ve got to make sure that you have it covered from top to bottom. So, if you don’t get a position you want early, you’ve got to make sure that you have some players that you may or may not like, you know, in the middle tiers, in the middle rounds.”
If the Lions aren’t enamored by the available options at offensive tackle with their first pick, the next obvious direction would be defensive end.
The team has superstar-in-the-making Ziggy Ansah as well as Devin Taylor but nothing much else on the current roster.
Top prospect Joey Bosa won’t make it to Detroit and the same could be said for DT/DE prospect DeForest Buckner. It’s possible Shaq Lawson is gone by the time the Lions pick as well.
If Lawson is there, he could easily represent the best value for the Lions but also comes with a set of concerns. He’s short, displayed some inconsistency in his game and is far from a sure thing in the NFL. His teammate Kevin Dobb likely represents the next best option but often lined up against inferior talent compared to Lawson and could be a reach at No. 16.
It’s possible that – despite having real needs at the position – the value isn’t there in the middle of the first round and the Lions go in a different direction.
There are several defensive tackle options and a compelling case could also be made for center Ryan Kelly if the Lions can’t get the offensive tackle or defensive end they covet.
Although a possibility, it’d be a bit surprising to see the Lions not address a position in the trenches with their first pick.
It’s impossible to know how the draft will fall and the Lions could be left with slim pickings at the positions they most want to address. One thing is for certain, though, Quinn and Co. will be prepared and there shouldn’t be much scrambling in the draft room when it’s time to make their pick.
“I think the biggest thing I learned was probably that all the decisions are made before draft day. You know, there’s no big arguments on draft day,” said Quinn. “The board’s set, you follow the board, you follow what your plan is and there’s really not a lot of discussion about who’s a better player on draft day, either Thursday, Friday or Saturday. Because really all that work’s done in advance, so it’s really a calm room. It’s going to be really quiet and we’ll just let the draft come to us.”