The most efficient and effective way to rebuild an NFL roster is to be good in the NFL Draft and get a lot of contributions from young players.
Detroit Lions general manager Brad Holmes had seven picks in last year's draft. Of those picks, six players were starters at some point throughout the year, and seventh-round running back Jermar Jefferson was a positive contributor when given his opportunities to play.
Tackle Penei Sewell, the No. 7 overall pick, was everything the Lions thought he'd be as a top prospect. Alim McNeill was a full-time starter at nose tackle as a third-round pick. Holmes really hit a home run in the fourth round by selecting wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown with the 112th pick. St. Brown set the franchise record for rookie receiving yards in his first season.
But where Holmes and the Lions might have accelerated the rebuild a bit came after the final pick in the draft was turned in.
"I do believe we have a very unique, collaborative and thorough process on that front," Holmes said after the season of their process for identifying and signing undrafted talent. "So, that's the first part, but after we acquire them, it's what we were talking about earlier about Dan (Campbell) and I's vision, our plan, on player development and how we view it and how we're not scared to let young guys play – we're just not."
Detroit was able to sign cornerback AJ Parker, cornerback Jerry Jacobs, tight end Brock Wright and guard Tommy Kraemer as undrafted free agents. All four players ended up playing valuable roles in Detroit and got terrific experience in their first year in the league.
Parker had an impressive training camp and won the nickel cornerback spot out of camp and was solid all year.
Jacobs stepped in Week 4 after the Lions suffered some injuries and never looked back. In 313 coverage snaps this season, Jacobs allowed just one touchdown in his coverage area and had six breakups. He was also stout as a tackler. Unfortunately, his season ended prematurely with a torn ACL, but the expectation is for him to be ready to go around time for the start of the 2022 regular season.
Wright went from the third tight end to No. 2 by midseason to being the No. 1 option at the position after T.J. Hockenson was placed in IR the last month of the season. Wright ended up having big touchdown grabs in wins over Minnesota and Green Bay.
Kraemer played in nine games with three starts, and he showed a lot of promise. He allowed three total pressures and no sacks in 125 pass-blocking reps.
"I think I've said it to you guys before – you just can't be on the driving range all day. You've just got to go out there and play," Holmes said. "So, that's what we do. So, there's kind of two parts of it; it's the process before we acquire them, which we do acquire and then feel good about it. Then it's the process of after we have acquired them, what's the plan for success? And we have a good plan for that as well."
Holmes and the Lions have a lot more draft capital to work with in their second offseason, including two first-round picks (one via Rams) and potentially three third-round picks when compensatory picks are announced.
But if this past season proved anything it's that Holmes' work isn't done when Mr. Irrelevant comes off the board. He's set up a proven process of finding and developing the hidden talent, the players that don't hear their name called on draft day and likely have a chip on their shoulder because of it. In doing so, Holmes continues to accelerate Detroit's rebuild with young talent.