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NFL Draft Weekend

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O'HARA: After months of speculation, Lions keep the third pick

The Detroit Lions got the player they needed to upgrade their defense, but they couldn't get a draft-night trade to add to their stash of draft picks.

They added an important building block by taking cornerback Jeff Okudah of Ohio State in the first round and third overall in the 2020 draft Thursday night.

Okudah was rated the No. 1 cornerback in the draft by a wide margin and should be an opening-day starter.

But expectations from fans and media that the Lions would trade back with teams like the Dolphins and Chargers, who wanted to draft quarterbacks, never materialized.

The trade winds that had been gusting in the virtual world for several weeks leading up to the draft were calm Thursday night in the NFL's first-ever virtual draft, necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

When general manager Bob Quinn spoke in his press conference after the first round, it was obvious that the Lions had settled on taking Okudah if he was on the board, and he was philosophical about not being able to make a trade – which he was more than willing to do.

"Really a complete corner in our eyes," he said of Okudah. "Corners come in all shapes and sizes. He kind of fits the mold of a top-flight cornerback. He can cover big guys. He can cover small guys ... support the run.

"He plays the ball very well in the air. He's very much a student of the game."

As Quinn said often, the Lions were open for business in the trade market, but nobody was shopping at the top of the draft. The first trade was at No. 13, when the Bucs moved up one spot in a deal with the 49ers.

"I'll give you exactly what happened," Quinn said "We had a lot of conversations. We never got a firm offer. No team put anything on the table. We had multiple conversations with multiple teams. They were kind of fishing around.

"We were open for business, as you know. Nothing was ever put in front of us to evaluate. We were open and willing to move back a little bit. We thought we had a couple players we liked if we moved back a little bit.

"We stood pat and took the player we felt could best help our team, and we're excited to have Jeff."

Even before the annual NFL Combine workouts and testing in February, league executives and draft insiders said the draft would begin with the Lions at No. 3 because of the certainty that quarterback Joe Burrow of LSU and edge rusher Chase Young would go 1-2 to the Bengals and Redskins respectively.

Quinn never blinked in the spotlight or flinched from being asked about the value of such a high pick – by far the highest of his five seasons as GM – and whether he might draft a quarterback.

View photos of cornerback Jeff Okudah.

Asked specifically at the Combine if he would consider drafting Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, Quinn replied: "Yeah. We'll look at all those guys. I think I said this a couple days ago, that we're drafting at three, so we have to look at everybody."

What about the value of the pick – a clear reference to potential trade offers to move down and collect additional draft picks?

"I think the value of the No. 3 pick is always very high," he said. "It doesn't matter who the prospect is, or what the year is. It's all about the cost, right? It's all about what they would pay to get there."

And so began two months of speculation, reports and rumors of trade offers to the Lions to trade up for the No. 3 pick.

The Dolphins, with a desperate need for a franchise quarterback and three first-round picks – 5, 18 and 27 – were supposedly the top candidate to move up and garnered by far the most attention. But at mid-afternoon on draft day Thursday, there was no hint of them or the Chargers making an offer.

Both teams held firm. The Dolphins drafted Tagovailoa with the fifth pick, and the Chargers took Justin Herbert of Oregon with the next pick.

In the end, the Lions got the player they wanted.

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