The 2018 NFL draft has concluded, though the Detroit Lions will continue to work to get undrafted free agents to sign with the club over the next couple days. The Lions walked away from the draft with six picks they hope can help their football team moving forward.
Here are five of my takeaways from draft weekend:
1. Bob Quinn was serious about upgrading the run game
The stats have been well documented when it comes to Detroit's run game. They were last in rushing a year ago, and quarterback Matthew Stafford has had a grand total of just seven 100-yard rushers to support him over his career.
The selection of interior offensive lineman Frank Ragnow in the first round, running back Kerryon Johnson in round two, and a run-blocking fullback (Nick Bawden) in round seven is an obvious sign Quinn is serious about improving that part of the offense.
“I’ve been talking about that since January,” Quinn said. “I think we added some offensive linemen, we’ve added a running back in free agency, we’ve added a running back in the draft, so I think on paper should our run game be better? Yeah, probably.
“Now, it’s up to the players, the coaches and all of us to make sure we get out to the spring portion of our practices to implement the new guys into the system. Get to training camp and we’ll have a very physical training camp. We’ll see how everything comes together.
“I think the pieces are there, now it’s really up to, you know, all of us in the building to kind of make sure these guys produce at a high level.”
2. Quinn feels pretty good about the current talent and depth along the front seven on defense
I expected Quinn and Co. to further bolster the front seven on defense in this draft. They did so with the selection of defensive lineman Da’Shawn Hand, but they waited until Round 4 to do it. Their first three picks were interior offensive line, running back and safety.
The Lions are going to look a lot different upfront on defense this year. They’ll be less of a one-gap attacking defense and more of a two-gap system that emphasizes technique, fundamentals, holding gaps and protecting the edge.
Hand has the kind of size and athleticism to make him a versatile piece both outside and inside in Detroit’s rotation. Quinn says he can play anywhere from the seven-technique to nose tackle.
The Lions added three linebackers in free agency – Devon Kennard, Christian Jones and Jonathan Freeny – and a run-stuffing defensive tackle in Sylvester Williams to their front seven. Quinn seems pretty confident in what they have along the edge with Ziggy Ansah, Kerry Hyder Jr., Anthony Zettel, Cornelius Washington and now potentially Hand.
3. Running backs are back, baby
Just a few years ago we saw the value of the running back position take a bit of a dive with the increased role of the passing attack in the NFL. Thank players like Ezekiel Elliott, Todd Gurley, Leonard Fournette, Kareem Hunt and Alvin Kamara in recent drafts with bringing the position back to prominence in the NFL draft.
Three backs were drafted in the first round, and then there was a run on the position near the top of the second round. There were five running backs selected on Day 2, bringing the total up to eight so far – tied for the most running backs taken in the first three rounds in the past 10 years.
Detroit got in on the fun in round two with the selection of Johnson, who rushed for nearly 1,400 yards, and had 18 touchdowns as the SEC Offensive Player of the Year for Auburn.
4. Things will look very different upfront on defense for the Lions in 2018
It might almost be unrecognizable to what fans have been used to over the years.
The Lions have been a one-gap attacking defense under former defensive coordinator Teryl Austin the last five years. What that means is they’ve emphasized getting up the field after the quarterback and stopping the run on the way.
Expect Detroit to be more of a two-gap, gap-control defense up front under head coach Matt Patricia.
They will be much more conscious of technique, holding gaps and playing sound fundamentally rather than just getting up the field, according to Quinn.
That’s why we’ve see the addition of players in free agency and the draft that are strong at the point of attack and technically sound, though they might not have eye-popping pass-rushing statistics.
That first open OTA to the media should be fun to see how it all fits together and where everyone lines up.
5. Position versatility continues to be key for the Lions in the draft
It’s something both Quinn and Patricia have talked about often.
“When it comes down to it, during the regular season we have 46 spots on the gameday roster,” Quinn said. “We bring seven linemen (that) are dressed, so you’ve got to do the math.”
The same goes for all three levels of the defense on gameday.
Ragnow can play center or guard. Safety Tracy Walker could play both safety spots, and has the cover skills to maybe play some slot or be a sub-package weapon. Hand has the size and athleticism to play outside or inside and just about every technique upfront.
The Lions value players that can do multiple things, and it’s typically a skillset they look for when they sign free agents and add players via the NFL draft.