The Lions have shown a preference for Southeastern Conference players in their past three drafts, especially in the early rounds.
Bob Quinn has been a decent drafter for the Detroit Lions. He has found a good number of starters but has yet to land a true star. He has taken some players with breakout potential, but none has hit the upper echelon just yet.
Quinn has been mostly consistent, with only a couple glaring misses. Most of those draft errors have been in the later rounds, where all prospects have flaws, and the guessing game becomes much more difficult. For every Jamal Agnew, there’s a Dwayne Washington.
The only true “miss” Quinn has had is cornerback Teez Tabor, a second-round pick in 2017. There’s still a chance for him, but 2019 is a crucial season.
What does all of this mean entering this year’s draft? We’ll try to explain.
Let’s start with this year’s first pick. Quinn is open to a trade at No. 8 — at this point, almost every general manager in the league has to consider trying to move up or down, something that will continue throughout the draft. There’s a decent possibility that Quinn doesn’t move in the first round, but he has been very active in later rounds. In two of his three drafts, he has made trades to either go up and snag a player or drop back to collect an extra pick or two.
Don’t expect Quinn to stay put throughout draft weekend.
Themes have emerged as Quinn enters his fourth draft as a general manager. Some come from the scouting profiles the Lions create that have leanings — as one would expect — from the Parcells-Belichick system that exists in New England. Those numbers rarely get shared, and the three-season sample is probably too small to be representative.
Before we take a dive into things to watch with Quinn and the Lions, understand this: He isn’t opposed to taking multiple players at one position. That was difficult to do last year. Although the Lions took two offensive lineman, they had Frank Ragnow slated for the interior and Tyrell Crosby expected to play tackle. There might be more options in 2019.
Quinn answered this question in relation to running back — a position the Lions continue to overhaul — but it goes for pretty much everywhere besides quarterback.
“This year, obviously we have nine picks. So if you go into the draft with six picks, it’s kind of hard to kind of double up on one position, really depending on what your roster looks like,” Quinn said at the combine. “I’ll never say never. We talked about some of the positions of need and some of the positions of depth so far, this early process of the draft.
“If they match up, and there’s some quality depth, if you take somebody early and there’s a middle-round guy that you have kind of graded a little bit higher, I’ll always consider that.”
For instance, in 2017, he took two cornerbacks (Tabor, Agnew) and two linebackers (Jarrad Davis, Jalen Reeves-Maybin), though all four players had different roles: Tabor on the outside, Agnew in the slot, Davis in the middle and Reeves-Maybin on the outside.
In 2016, his first draft, Quinn had 10 picks and avoided doubling up in any spot — though both Graham Glasgow and Joe Dahl were interior offensive linemen — potentially because Detroit had depth needs all across its roster.
As such (and this is a no-brainer), expect a variety of positions to be addressed. Detroit has a reasonable number of needs — edge rusher, tight end, linebacker, wide receiver, quarterback, cornerback and safety — to consider.
As Quinn is making those picks, figure that at least one will come from the Southeastern Conference. Of the 25 selections Quinn has made as Lions general manager, eight have come from the SEC. He has spoken before about the competition in the SEC and its potential barometer for NFL success.
Based off his history, there’s a decent chance that an SEC player heads to the Lions in the first two rounds. Of Quinn’s six first- and second-round picks, five have been SEC players, including the first- and second-rounders in 2017 and 2018. At No. 8, players such as Montez Sweat, Quinnen Williams, Josh Allen, Jonah Williams, Jawaan Taylor and Devin White would be options to keep the streak going. Going with other talented options, such as Christian Wilkins (ACC), Ed Oliver (American), Rashan Gary (Big Ten) or T.J. Hockenson (Big Ten), would break the five-pick streak.
What he hasn’t done since his first draft is take a Big Ten player. In that draft, he took four of them: Taylor Decker (Ohio State), Glasgow and Jake Rudock (Michigan) and Anthony Zettel (Penn State). He has also largely avoided the Big 12, having chosen only long-snapper Jimmy Landes (Baylor).
Quinn also has no issues choosing small-school players. At least one player in each draft has come from a smaller conference, including Tracy Walker last year (Louisiana), Kenny Golladay (Northern Illinois), Michael Roberts (Toledo) and Agnew (San Diego) in 2017, and Miles Killebrew (Southern Utah) and Antwione Williams (Georgia Southern) in 2016. None has been higher than a third-round pick, though.
In other words, expect Quinn to stick with major conferences in the first two rounds and possibly scoop up a small-school player in the third or fourth round, as he has done every year.
Expect at least one player to come from the Senior Bowl. Quinn has loved the Senior Bowl in the past. Last year, four of Detroit’s six picks were Senior Bowl invitees (Ragnow didn’t play), and Quinn has taken at least one Senior Bowl player every year.
Quinn has been somewhat predictable when it comes to need-filling, particularly early in the draft. He likes to fill clear needs, doing so with Decker and Robinson in 2016, Davis and Tabor in 2017, and Ragnow and Kerryon Johnson last year. All addressed varying levels of need at the time of their selections.
This isn’t to say he’ll press for a player at a position. In 2017, two of the team’s bigger needs were running back and edge rusher. The Lions waited until the sixth round to take a defensive lineman, and neither Ledbetter nor Pat O’Connor is still on the team.
The bigger miss might have been running back. It worked out a year later with Johnson, but Quinn eschewed the position altogether, despite an incredibly deep class that had Dalvin Cook, Alvin Kamara, Kareem Hunt, D’Onta Foreman and James Conner go on Day 2 and Tarik Cohen, Jamaal Williams, Marlon Mack, Aaron Jones, Elijah McGuire and Chris Carson go on Day 3.
As you settle in to figure out whom the Lions will take this year, consider some of the tendencies Quinn has shown in the past when trying to decide how to build the Lions’ roster.