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Can 2016 rookies build off first year success?

The Detroit Lions returned to work last week with the official start of their offseason training program.

For last year's draft class, it officially kicked off their second season in the NFL, which means they are rookies no more.

Eight of Detroit's 10 picks last year combined to play 3,817 total snaps in their first season.

Detroit's 2016 draft class played the seventh-most snaps on offense and defense alone of any rookie class, per statistics.

That certainly bodes well for year two, which is an important season when it comes to the evaluation process of a draft class for Lions general manager Bob Quinn.

"Listen, it was a good draft," Quinn said at the recent Members Summit at Ford Field. "The way we look at our draft is we look at two years of NFL experience. After this year, I think we'll have a really, really good evaluation of last year's draft. It started off good. All eight of those 10 guys are at a really good place to contribute, and the other two guys are as well.

"So I think after this season I'll look back and say, 'OK, that's how the first year's draft class went. How can I improve going forward?"

First-round pick Taylor Decker led the way for the rookies a year ago, playing in 1,105 total snaps and every single snap on offense. He was named to the Pro Football Writers All-Rookie Team.

Defensive tackle A'Shawn Robinson and guard Graham Glasgow, who were selected in the second and third rounds by Detroit, combined to start 16 games. Both will be in the mix to become full-time starters this season.

Fourth-round pick Miles Killebrew made the most of the 149 snaps he got on defense as a third safety. He was a stalwart on special teams, playing 304 snaps. 

"Sometimes when rookies come in they play for different reasons," Quinn said. "Some of them play because they are better than the guys in front of them. Sometimes they play because of injuries.

"It's a good thing we had that many young players play last year. That bodes well for the future, but I'd say the way I always evaluate it is two years removed from the draft."

So, as year two kicks off for Detroit's top four picks last season, and the other four players – Antwione Williams, Dwayne Washington, Anthony Zettel and Joe Dahl – who also made contributions in 2016, the key is building off year one.

There's a common saying in the NFL that if you're not getting better, you're getting worse. Quinn is watching closely to see which of his second-year players build on their first-year gains and become the future core of his roster in his two-year evaluation process.

2016 rookie class snap counts
Decker 1,105 1,037 0 68
Glasgow 785 706 0 79
Killebrew 453 0 149 304
Robinson 446 0 408 38
Williams 399 0 203 196
Washington 292 230 0 62
Zettel 271 0 214 57
Dahl 66 20 0 46
Source: Football Outsiders

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