O'HARA: What we learned from the 2019 NFL Draft

General Manger Bob Quinn is back to his roots and digging deep for talent to build the Detroit Lions’ roster.

We should have learned last year he was operating in familiar territory, and if we didn’t, we got an advanced refresher course in this year’s draft.

Quinn’s connection with head coach Matt Patricia from the years they spent together with the New England Patriots has made an impact in Quinn’s last two drafts compared to how he operated the first two with Jim Caldwell as head coach.

They have different styles of football, especially on defense, and it requires a different style of player.

The Lions have an entirely different framework in place, and they’ll be building on it in future seasons if they’re successful.

Among the other things we learned in this year’s draft process: Darius Slay has stature; competition is on at tight end; and how Round 8 of the draft began before the sun went down Saturday night.

We start with Quinn, and his new comfort level:

The roots: It started last year with the change of head coaches – from Caldwell to Patricia – and the switch from the base 4-3 defense employed by Caldwell to Patricia’s multiple 3-4. Make that extremely multiple.

There was a conversion process in personnel, as there would be in most coaching changes. And it wasn’t just the numbers – 4-3 vs. 3-4. Caldwell had an attacking front. Patricia believes in more gap control, which requires more discipline and an emphasis on tackling and eliminating big plays.

“Very comfortable,” Quinn said after the draft when asked about the evaluation process in the coaching change.

“These are the kind of players, defensively at least, that I’ve always known how to scout and grew up learning to scout for. When I came here in 2016, our defense was obviously quite different, in terms of the style, so I tried to adjust as best I could.

“When Matt came along, we quickly went back to his style. To be completely honest, I feel more comfortable grading and evaluating players for this system, just because I’ve done it so much longer.”

The first indication of the impact of familiarity was how the defense improved exponentially in the second half of last season. We’ll see if it starts this year the way it finished last year.

Slay's stature: We’re finding out that cornerback Darius Slay has become a known player in the league, and not just by his peers, from making the Pro Bowl the last two years.

Slay’s playing style, production and the joy he exhibits in playing the game are qualities for young players coming into the league to emulate. One of those players Slay has influenced is his new teammate, cornerback Amani Oruwariye, a fifth-round draft pick from Penn State.

He likes the way Slay plays the deep ball, Oruwariye said in a conference call interview with the Detroit media Saturday.

“It’s just great techniques,” Oruwariye said. “That’s what I think I’ve watched from him on film. He’s somebody that I’m going to really lean on and seek advice from."

As he goes into his seventh season, Slay is in position to assume more of a leadership role. It’s a logical step, and something that was established by veterans such as Rashean Mathis and Glover Quin in what is a tightly knit secondary unit.

Tight ends, tight battles: If there was any doubt that the tight end position was in line for an extreme makeover – and there was no doubt – it was erased in the draft.

Numbers alone say there will be a tight squeeze making the roster for tight ends.

It made six on the roster when the Lions drafted Isaac Nauta of Georgia in the seventh round Saturday night. Three others have been added this year – first-round pick T.J. Hockenson of Iowa and veteran free agents Jesse James, formerly of the Steelers, and Logan Thomas, formerly of the Bills.

The other two are 2017 fourth-round pick Michael Roberts, and Jerome Cunningham, who played briefly in one game in 2018.

Round 8: It’s the analysis, grading and speculation that began after the Arizona Cardinals took Caleb Wilson with the last pick (No. 254) in the draft.

Right, wrong, accurate or indifferent, it’s all a reflection of the magnetic pull of the NFL draft. It’s open to everyone and will continue until next year’s draft – at least.

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