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O'HARA: What we learned from the 2020 NFL Draft

Pro football is the ultimate game of adjustments, with changes in player groups from play to play, and sometimes massive changes in game plans at halftime

But never has any sports league had to adjust as quickly and on as broad a scale as the National Football League and its 32 teams did in conducting the 2020 draft as scheduled.

Basically, the national "Stay at Home" edicts to contend with the Covid-19 pandemic forced the NFL to operate under a "Draft at Home" format all three days.

What we learned from the 2020 draft is that we all learned something about the draft – fans watching, media covering and presenting the draft on network TV, and club officials who had to put together their plans on the fly, with restrictions too numerous to detail here.

Among the other things we learned about the draft from the Lions' perspective is that speed means something in making instant evaluations of draft picks, a player's attitude is part of what makes them attractive to teams, that the 2020 class will provide competition for jobs, and that if it's possible, one draft pick showed that Barry Sanders is a greater legend than we might have thought.

We start with Detroit Lions' general manager Bob Quinn's take on how the Lions adjusted under the "Draft at Home" format.

Quinn had just finished a Zoom conference meeting with his staff when he talked to the media at the end of the draft Saturday when he was asked what he might have learned from this year's draft, and what might be applicable going forward.

The positive effect on lifestyle and families was as important to Quinn as the mechanics of the draft.

"I asked them (the staff), Hey, listen ... over the next couple weeks I want you guys to jot down anything you guys learned, anything we can incorporate going forward," Quinn said.

A lot of that was focused on spending more time at home with their families, instead all their time hunkered down at Allen Park.

There were numerous shots on TV throughout the three-day draft of team executives interacting with family members at home. There was one with Quinn exchanging high fives and a fist bump with his two children.

"Maybe we can tone down the the hours and work smarter rather than longer," Quinn said. "Maybe do a few things virtually a day or two a week.

"I'm going to look into that. I'm not going to make any promises one way or the other, but that's something that I'm going to evaluate over the next couple months."

Receiver 40 time: It's a legitimate red flag and raises questions when a wide receiver runs a slow time in the 40-yard dash. That is the case for fifth-round pick Quintez Cephus of Wisconsin, who was timed in 4.73 seconds at the Combine.

As Quinn noted in his post-draft press conference, Cephus improved that – slightly – to 4.62 at his Pro Day.

Cephus did well in his other Combine measurements – 23 reps in the bench press, 38.5 inches in the vertical jump and 10 feet, 3 inches in the standing broad jump.

Speed isn't everything. In 2017, wide receiver John Ross of Washington set the Combine record with a time of 4.22 seconds in the 40. The Bengals drafted him ninth overall.

In 24 games – and only three as a rookie because of an injury – Ross has 49 catches and 10 receiving TDs, with a career high of 28 catches in 2019.

Veteran receiver 40 time: Anquan Boldin caught 1,074 passes – ninth most in NFL history -- in 14 NFL seasons. He had 67 in his final season with the Lions in 2016.

Boldin burned receivers with his smarts and toughness, not his speed.

Boldin was timed in 4.73 seconds in the 2013 Combine and was drafted in the second round by the Arizona Cardinals.

If only he could have run fast (sarcasm intentional).

If only we've all learned that stop watches don't win games.

Attitude up front: The attitude expressed by guards Jonah Jackson (third round, Ohio State) and Logan Stenberg (fourth, Kentucky) was part – and only part – of what made them attractive to the Lions.

After four years at Rutgers, Jackson said he transferred to Ohio State for a fifth year because he wanted to feel what it was like to play for a winner and compete for championships.

Mission accomplished: Ohio State went 13-0 and won the Big Ten, but lost to Clemson in the national championship tournament.

When asked what he brings to the NFL, Stenberg replied: "I'll tell you what my best asset is: I'm a nasty player. I like to block and finish blocks."

Quinn said he liked those qualities in both players, adding that Stenberg was often penalized for being too aggressive – something that will be "coached out of him."

Rutgers rut: It was a losing rut in Jackson's four years at Rutgers. Including his 2015 season as a redshirt, Rutgers won a combined 11 games. Nobody could have blamed him for transferring sooner.

Competitive balance: The 2020 draft class will compete for jobs – as starters or primary backups and rotation players. Here's what I think we learned about the following:

Running back: As Quinn said, D'Andre Swift's ability to line up in the slot could allow offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell to craft plays that would have Swift and Kerryon Johnson in the game at the same time. That would put pressure on defenses on how to adjust.

Swift, fresh legs: I wonder if the college work loads of the backs on the board at the top of the second round had a small impact on Quinn's decision to draft Swift.

As three-year players, Swift had 440 career carries; J.K. Dobbins had 725; Jonathan Taylor had 926.

Swift took far less pounding in college – perhaps enough to make a difference.

On guard: Jackson and Stenberg are interior linemen, which could mean that it is most likely that Halapoulivaati Vaitai, a key free-agent signing in the offseason – will play right tackle instead of guard.

Barry, Barry, Barry: Swift's comments about modeling his game after Sanders tells us we cannot underestimate what a revered historical figure Sanders is.

Sanders played the last game of his 10-year career at Baltimore on Dec. 27, 1998. Swift was born 18 days later – Jan. 14, 1999.

After hearing about him, Swift said he started watching film of Sanders.

"As I got older, I tried to emulate my game to be like his in any way possible," he said " I just love watching him."

Join the crowd.

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