General manager Bob Quinn and his staff are in the final preparations for their third NFL Draft next week.
Quinn’s previous two drafts have supplied the roster with plenty of young talent. A lot of the headlines this offseason will focus on the players from last year’s class that are entering year two. A player’s biggest jump in development is typically between their first two years, so there’s a lot of interest in that group.
But Quinn’s first draft class from 2016 is also entering an important timeframe in their careers. Quinn has always said that a draft class can’t truly be evaluated until they’ve had a few seasons under their belt. Well, his first draft class is entering the crucial third year that ordinarily tells a lot about a player.
Let’s take a look at the 2016 draft class, and where those players currently stand in their development heading into what’s typically a make-or-break third season.
**Taylor Decker, T, first round (No. 16 overall)
After a terrific rookie season that saw Decker play every down and earn a spot on the Pro Football Writer’s All-Rookie Team, he injured his right shoulder in OTAs and was forced to miss the beginning half of his second season. As expected after that kind of layoff, Decker was a little inconsistent the second half of the season as he tried to work his way back into playing form.
This is a big season for Decker. The Lions need him to stay healthy and lock down the left tackle spot like he did as a rookie. Decker has all the physical tools to be a Pro Bowl-caliber tackle. Will it all come together for him in year three?
A’Shawn Robinson, DT, second round (No. 46)
Robinson became a full-time starter last season and finished with 53 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and an interception return for touchdown. Pro Football Focus graded him as the 46th best interior defender in football last season.
Robinson, along with Sylvester Williams and Akeem Spence, will play an important role in a revamped Lions' defense under new head coach Matt Patricia. Robinson made an impact last year, but the Lions should look for him to make a bigger one in year three.
Graham Glasgow, G/C, third round (No. 95)
Glasgow has been a Swiss Army Knife upfront for this team his first two seasons. He’s played guard, and he’s had to finish both of his first two seasons at center after starter Travis Swanson was forced out of the lineup due to concussions both in 2016 and 2017.
Quinn said he's keeping his options open with Glasgow, so we'll probably get some clarity to what his role will be moving forward after the draft and OTAs. He was graded in the top eight among centers by PFF last season. He was No. 13 among left guards.
Glasgow's been a steady young player, and is expected to keep getting better.
**Miles Killebrew, S, fourth round (No. 111)
Killebrew’s had more of a niche role in sub packages his first two seasons, but he gets a clean slate in Patricia’s new defense. Things are a bit crowded at safety with starters Glover Quin and Tavon Wilson back under contract, and Quandre Diggs proving last year he’s more than capable at the position if the Lions keep him there.
This is a big year for Killebrew, who’s shown flashes of his ability but not consistently enough to warrant a starting role. He has good size and can run, and it will be interesting to see what role Patricia and defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni come with for him. At the very least, Killebrew is a good special teamer, and has proven to be an asset as a sub-package player. This is a big offseason for him.
Joe Dahl, G, fifth round (No. 151)
The former tackle had to transform his body and learn to play guard the last two seasons. He played in six games last year and made three starts to end the year, earning a positive grade from PFF in two of those contests.
If the Lions decide to play Glasgow at center, Dahl should be in the mix along with veteran Kenny Wiggins and any potential interior lineman draft pick for the open spot at left guard. This was a pick Quinn knew would take a little time to develop. We saw some of the fruits of Dahl’s labor at the end of last season, and we’ll see if he’s taken the necessary steps this offseason to become a full-time starter in year three.
Jake Rudock, QB, sixth round (No. 191)
Rudock developed enough from year one to two to earn the role of Matthew Stafford’s backup last season. He saw action in December against Baltimore, and completed 3-of-5 passes for 24 yards and an interception.
The team signed veteran Matt Cassel in free agency this offseason, which sets up some competition in the quarterback room. Quinn has drafted a quarterback late in each of his first two drafts. It was Rudock in 2016 and Brad Kaaya last year.
It’s hard to evaluate Rudock because he doesn’t play much after the preseason, but the fact that he was trusted to be Stafford’s lone backup last season means the organization has to like the developmental path he’s on.
Anthony Zettel, DE, sixth round (No. 202)
Credit Zettel for stepping up and taking advantage of an opportunity last year. When Kerry Hyder Jr. went down with an Achilles injury in the first preseason game, Zettel jumped into a starting role opposite Ziggy Ansah and rewarded the Lions with 43 tackles and 6.5 sacks. Zettel is a tenacious rusher, and has some very good athletic traits to go along with his bulldog style. He was graded the 26th best 4-3 edge rusher by PFF last season -- One spot behind his teammate, Ansah.
Zettel will compete for a starting role, and at the very least gives the team a proven, veteran rusher in their rotation. He’s turned into a nice player on the edge with a lot of potential.
Dwayne Washington, RB, seventh round (No. 236)
Teams drafting players in late rounds usually look for the right athletic traits they think they can develop.
Washington has the kind of size and speed that translates to the pro game, but he hasn’t quite shown a natural feel as a runner. He averaged 2.9 yards per carry as a rookie and just 2.2 yards per attempt last season on 20 carries.
The addition of LeGarrette Blount in free agency, and the potential drafting of another back next week in a very deep draft class of runners, could put Washington in an uphill climb to make the roster.
Note: Linebacker Antwione Williams (fifth round) and long snapper Jimmy Landes (sixth round) are no longer on the roster.