Detroit Lions go big and, for now, that’s smart

by | May 1, 2016 | Detroit Free Press, Sports | 0 comments

Beefy. And that’s the word I’d use. If you’re trying to assess the Lions’ 2016 draft — under new GM Bob Quinn — put it on a scale.

Beefy. An offensive lineman first. A defensive lineman second. A center third. A strong safety whose nickname is “Killa.” Another offensive lineman. A linebacker.

You catching a pattern here?

Quinn brought a reputation as a personnel wizard from New England, and you can see he didn’t earn that by falling for sizzle. This might be the Lions’ least sexy draft in recent memory. No wide receivers. One running back (but not until the seventh round). Not even the crazy tight end pick. (Let us hope we never, ever, see a top-10 pick on a tight end again.)

And good for him. Obviously Quinn knows what many around here have been saying for a long time: the Lions don’t block well enough, don’t protect well enough and don’t stop other teams well enough. “You win football games,” he told the media Saturday, “in the trenches.”

It shows in his picks. These guys could create trenches just by jumping up and down. The average height and weight of Detroit’s first three selections was 6 feet 6,308 pounds. They’d better check the legs on the locker-room stools.

But this is more than size or stats. There’s a method to this method, far better than the madness of Martin Mayhew or his predecessor, Matt Millen, who specialized in guys who didn’t live up to expectations.

Finally, drafting to need

I thought Quinn did an excellent job of controlling the picks he could control. What was out of his control was what other teams did.

I don’t know why it seems that whatever the Lions need in a particular year, that’s the year every team ahead of them needs the same thing. Last year, the Lions needed an offensive lineman to help protect Matthew Stafford. Five offensive linemen were taken by teams ahead of them.

This year they (again) needed an offensive lineman or a defensive lineman and, even picking No. 16, six were gone by the time they selected.

Taking Taylor Decker with the first-round pick was a solid if safe selection for Quinn. We won’t know how Quinn felt about the guys who were already gone. But Decker comes from a great program, is praised for his versatility (in case Riley Reiff, another Mayhew pick who hasn’t developed well, should move on). And Decker fills an immediate need.

Let’s hope the same is true of the Lions’ second pick, A’Shawn Robinson, the massive — and massively bearded — defensive tackle from Alabama. Picking guys from the Crimson Tide is tricky because it is such a football factory right now, almost everybody looks great on film. If only you could draft the whole team and Nick Saban.

You can’t. And so the Lions roll a little dice on Robinson’s pass-rushing skills. But even if he only helps with the run (a major weak spot for Detroit last year) that will be worth something.

I’m also curious to see if Miles Killebrew hits as hard as advertised. An in-the-box safety who made receivers pay would be welcome.

Quinn didn’t have to decide on Tunsil

The most interesting litmus test for the Lions was the one that didn’t happen. Had Laremy Tunsil, the Ole Miss offensive lineman, fallen to the 16th pick, what would Detroit have done?

Here was a guy some had predicted as the top pick in the entire draft. Then a damaging video of him smoking a bong in a gas mask mysteriously appears on the Internet just before the draft starts, and teams scurry to the exits.

If Miami hadn’t stopped his freefall by taking Tunsil with the 13th pick, what would the Lions have done if he dropped to them? He clearly could have filled their biggest need. But would character concerns have trumped football issues?

Quinn is fortunate he didn’t face that one in his first year on the job. But he could sometime soon. There was a staggering lesson in the Tunsil incident, and it was less about never partying when a camera is around than about cyber terrorism, possible blackmail, and breaking news to the outside world the same time the football world knows about it.

What happened to Tunsil, in my view, was unfair, even if he made dumb mistakes in his off-field life and in breaking NCAA rules. Someone clearly was trying to destroy his professional options — and cost him millions of dollars with the cowardly act of hacking and releasing.

And it could happen again.

Fortunately, we are not debating that this morning for the Lions, the way folks in Miami mostly likely are for the Dolphins. For now, our local NFL team can parade a huge, heavyweight lineup of new picks. They did a solid job in Year 1 of the Quinn era. Solid as bone and muscle. A lot of it.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

New book, The Little Liar, arrives November 14. Get the details »

Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

Subscribe for bonus content and giveaways!