General Manager Bob Quinn’s vision and blueprint for building the Detroit Lions’ roster is now the foundation of where the team stands and what it can become in the future.
Build through the draft.
Win in the trenches.
Those were the cornerstones for building that Quinn laid out when he took over as GM in 2016.
Quinn has done just that in the four draft classes and four years of free-agent signings he has directed. Of the 34 players the Lions have drafted in the last four years, 20 are on the current 53-player active roster.
Of those 20 players, 13 were opening-day starters this year. One other, 2017 fifth-round pick Jamal Agnew, is the primary return specialist and an All-Pro returner as a rookie. Agnew had a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the Lions’ Game 3 road win over the Eagles.
The 2019 Lions return from a bye this week with a 2-1-1 record from the first four games. They are legitimate candidates to make the playoffs, either as winners of the NFC North or with a wild card berth.
“I think we have a really tough team,” Quinn said during the bye week break. “I think Coach (Matt Patricia) has spoken about that. We have a tough team. We have a resilient team. The guys are really playing smart football. They’re playing good situational football.
“I think we’re on a good track. I think we’re getting there. We’re not perfect. There are positions we’re looking at to get better.”
Quinn is always looking to upgrade the roster at all levels – from role players J.D. McKissic and Marvin Hall who made important plays on offense in the loss to the Chiefs down to the last member of the 10-man practice squad.
The draft is the heartbeat of the roster, and players from Quinn’s four draft classes are playing substantial roles, but so are many other players acquired by free agency, trades and other methods.
Others were added in free agency. Among them: Wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr., offensive tackle Rick Wagner, linebackers Devon Kennard and Christian Jones, defensive ends Trey Flowers and Romeo Okwara and defensive backs Tavon Wilson, Justin Coleman and Rashaan Melvin.
Defensive tackle Damon Harrison Sr. was acquired in a trade midway through last season.
The draft is a primary source of talent because of the various ways it impacts a roster. At the top is performance, but factors such as finances and the opportunity to develop and evaluate players over a period of time while on comparatively low contracts are important.
“You’re not going to get it perfect in the draft,” Quinn said. “No GM is perfect. No team is perfect. You try to draft and develop your own. This is a player development league.
“If you do a good job in the draft, it helps you to not overspend in free agency, or not reach in free agency because you have a need that you’re sitting there in February and March staring at: ‘I have a major need here. Am I going to rely on a rookie to do this? Or am I going to spend a lot of money in free agency?'
“It gives you a lot of flexibility. You’ve got to hit more than you miss in the draft. You’re not going to be perfect. You have to do it with the right kind of guys who fit your system.”
Quinn has had one major miss in four years. Cornerback Teez Tabor, drafted in the second round and 53rd overall in 2017, could not overcome his physical limitations that Quinn acknowledged existed but felt could be made up by Tabor’s instincts for the game. Tabor was cut at the end of the preseason this year after playing sparingly for two seasons.
Here’s a year-by-year breakdown by round of Quinn’s draft classes, with some strengths and trends:
2016, 10 picks: The first five are still on the roster. Four are starters: 1. OT Taylor Decker, 2. DT A’Shawn Robinson, 3. G/C Graham Glasgow, 5. G Joe Dahl. Fourth-round pick Miles Killebrew is a core special teams player.
2017, 9 picks: Four on the roster, two are starters: 1. LB Jarrad Davis, 3. WR Kenny Golladay. Key backups and special teams players: 4. LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin, 5. CB Jamal Agnew.
2018, 6 picks: All six on the roster, five starters: 1. C Frank Ragnow, 2. RB Kerryon Johnson, 3. S Tracy Walker, 4. DL Da’Shawn Hand (injured), 6. FB Nick Bawden. 5. Tyrell Crosby, is the No. 3 OT and started Game 2 with Decker out with a back injury.
2019, 9 picks: Five on the active roster, two opening-day starters: 1. TE T.J. Hockenson, 2. LB Jahlani Tavai. Three backups: 3. S Will Harris, 5. CB Amani Oruwariye, 6. RB Ty Johnson. Two on practice squad: 6. WR Travis Fulgham, 7. TE Isaac Nauta. One on injured reserve: 4. DE Austin Bryant.
On the line: Four starting offensive linemen are draft picks – Decker, Dahl, Ragnow and Glasgow – and Crosby is the No. 3 OT.