MOBILE, Ala. – Lance Newmark, Detroit Lions Director of Player Personnel, was gracious enough to sit down with me here at the Senior Bowl to discuss a variety of topics that included this week's event, this year's draft class, Bob Quinn's influence on the Lions personnel department, and the importance of this offseason for the organization.
What is the biggest benefit of Senior Bowl week?
"First and foremost, it's football," Newmark said. "It's competition on the football field. It's real. It's what we do vs. individual testing or doing drill work in a controlled environment. This is real football."
While the NFL Scouting Combine and the Pro Days on college campuses around the country in the weeks that follow are important pieces to the scouting puzzle, the Senior Bowl can sometimes be the best indicator outside of a player's game tape to how they perform on the field playing the game.
"There's benefits to both, but this is a football environment," Newmark said. "It's very competitive. It's a large pool of good football players from this draft class. It gives guys an opportunity to change the narrative of their draft value to some degree and separate themselves from other people in their group."
Newmark said another benefit to this week is it gives small-school players an opportunity to "sink or swim," and establish themselves as legit. Or, if they struggle this week, there might be an issue to look into.
"Everything a player does on the field this week is evaluated in Detroit by multiple people," he said.
From a logistics standpoint, Newmark said it's impossible for GM Bob Quinn, Vice President of Player Personnel Kyle O'Brien and himself to get to every single school to see some of these prospects in person. The Senior Bowl provides them with an up-close look at some of these prospects to evaluate.
Where is the 2018 draft class strongest?
"It's an interesting quarterback group," Newmark said. "I would say it's a strong group and it's a diverse group. A lot of different personalities and play styles and a lot of different ways you can go at that position. It's an interesting year, to say the least, if you're in that market."
The Lions obviously have their quarterback for the foreseeable future in Matthew Stafford, but Newmark shares Quinn's philosophy that the position always has to be evaluated, and it's good business to acquire and develop quarterbacks every year.
"It's paramount," Newmark said. "If you don't have one, it's a totally different situation. You either have one, or you're scrambling to find one.
"There's that group of elite players at the position and then there's 15-20 teams trying to find one that can crack into that group. I'm always a fan of acquiring guys at all levels because you just never know when you're going to hit, and depth at that position is paramount."
One area where the Lions could certainly use some help next year is at running back. Newmark also likes this crop of runners.
"It's a good running back group, really at all levels of the draft," he said. "There's some high-profile guys. There's a second group of guys that are going to be good NFL players and there's some guys late that are really intriguing that I think you can hit on as well, both runners and pass-game players."
What about the players on defense?
Quinn said right after the season that adding players on defense was going to be a priority this offseason. The Lions need more playmakers on that side of the ball.
"I wouldn't say there's a standout position group (on defense)," Newmark said. "There's players that are going to be impact players across the board – defensive line impact, linebacker impact and secondary impact players."
What has been the biggest change moving from Director of College Scouting to Director of Player Personnel?
Newmark has been with the Lions organization for 20 years in various roles, but was promoted to Director of Player Personnel by Quinn in May of 2017.
"The biggest change has just been incorporating the pro side of it and just doing pro evaluations," Newmark said. "Being around the team more. Being around the day-to-day workouts, the roster management and seeing decisions made and being involved in decisions.
"Just the approach of managing a season on the pro side and preparing for free agency on the pro side. That's been the biggest change."
It was a lot of stuff Newmark hadn't been exposed to in his previous role.
"I've learned a lot and tried to come up with ideas along the way and tried to impact the best I could while maintaining the college side of it," he said.
What is the biggest impact Quinn has had on the personnel department since taking over as GM after the 2015 season?
"There's been a lot of benefits to his arrival," Newmark said. "There are changes to our timelines, how we acquire and process information and how we make decisions. Those have all changed in varying degrees."
But Newmark said the absolute biggest change that has stuck out to him is the increase in expectations.
"It's the expectations that he instills," Newmark said. "And it's not just our department. I think it's organizationally. I think there's just kind of an unspoken pressure.
"We feel pressure to put the best players on the field for our ownership, the other people in the building, for the city and for the state."
This game ultimately comes down to the players on the field, and Quinn, O'Brien and Newmark are charged with getting the best players to help this team take the next step.
How important is this offseason for the organization?
There will be a new coaching staff in place soon in Detroit with the hopes of taking a 9-7 team to the next level. Newmark shared Quinn's belief that the talent on the roster was better than Detroit's 9-7 record last year would indicate.
Because of that, he believes this is a crucial offseason for the Lions personnel department.
"It's critical," he said. "It's a critical offseason because I think we all feel like it's realistic that we can compete for a championship next year.
"We feel like we're close. The right move here or the right piece there and the right mix of talent, that can be the two or three games that can change the outcome. That can be the thing that helps us take the next step. It's absolutely critical, and I think everyone feels that way.
"You can either embrace expectations or resist them, and I feel like we're embracing them. We want to win, and pressure comes with that. So be it."