ALLEN PARK, Mich. – Detroit Lions general manager Bob Quinn stood up at the podium shortly before the 2017 draft and was asked if it was possible to select a bunch of players who could make an immediate impact.
As part of his answer, Quinn might have given a hint at his draft class evaluation. Yes, he would love every pick to contribute immediately. However, there is a broader plan.
“My goal is every draft pick is going to contribute to the team at some point in their rookie year,” Quinn said. “If not, by their second year at the very latest.”
That leads to an interesting question for Quinn, three drafts into his tenure. After cutting defensive lineman Anthony Zettel, a starter last year and sixth-round pick in 2016, exactly how good was his first draft, now two full NFL seasons removed from selection.
Despite some strong early returns, it no longer looks quite as good. Of the 10 Detroit draft picks that year, only five remain on the 53-man roster. Another, quarterback Jake Rudock, is on the practice squad. Even looking at those still on the 53-man, just two are starters – left tackle Taylor Decker (first round) and center Graham Glasgow (third round).
The team’s second round pick that year, defensive tackle A'Shawn Robinson, had been trending well through two seasons but ended up appearing to be demoted from starter to backup to start 2018 after a rough preseason in new coach Matt Patricia’s defense.
The defensive shift – from a true 4-3 to a hybrid defense with multiple looks – is part of the issue for Zettel’s release and Robinson’s struggles. Like Robinson, Zettel didn’t appear to have a strong camp, evidenced by how deep into the fourth preseason game he played. The shift in defensive schemes, though, doesn’t explain how a once-promising class now looks much more questionable.
Quinn, though, isn’t the only general manager who has watched a good portion of his 2016 class go away. The Patriots, Panthers, Raiders and 49ers, for example, have moved on from more than half of their 2016 draft class as the 2018 season begins. Meanwhile, three teams still have all of their 2016 picks in the organization (either on the 53-man roster or one of the reserve lists) – Cincinnati, Green Bay and New Orleans.
“The way we look at our draft is we look at two years of NFL experience,” Quinn said in April 2017. “So after , I think we’ll have a really, really good evaluation of [the 2016] draft. It started off good. Eight of those 10 guys are really in a good place to contribute, and the other two guys are as well.
“So I think after [the 2017] season I’ll look back and say, ‘OK, that’s how the first year’s draft went. How can I improve going forward?’ “
If Quinn took a hard look at his drafting, he’d see his late-round picks are where he has struggled the most. Quinn’s clear draft misses have been later-round picks, a spot where you’re taking players with flaws. But hitting on those players is part of the difference between teams that win and build consistently and ones that can’t seem to do so.
Beyond the 2016 misses, Detroit’s last three picks from the 2017 draft – defensive lineman Jeremiah Ledbetter, quarterback Brad Kaaya and defensive end Pat O’Connor – are all no longer with Detroit. Kaaya and O’Connor didn’t even make it through their whole rookie seasons with the club.
With all of that in mind, here’s a look back at 2016 to try and figure out what went right and wrong and how it could have been different (realizing that hindsight clearly helps):
OT Taylor Decker
NFL status: Lions starting left tackle
Thoughts in a sentence: Decker was the right pick at the time and remains the correct selection now.
DT A’Shawn Robinson
NFL status: Lions backup defensive tackle
Thoughts in a sentence: Initially viewed as a steal, Robinson is trending downward entering his third season.
OC Graham Glasgow
NFL status: Lions starting center
Thoughts in a sentence: Two years in, he looks like the best non-first round pick of Quinn’s tenure (although Jamal Agnew, with another high-level season, could pass him).
LB/S Miles Killebrew
NFL status: Lions reserve linebacker/safety
Thoughts in a sentence:: He has been a strong special teams contributor, but he was not a roster lock this year and is in the midst of somewhat of a position switch as a hybrid linebacker/safety.
OG Joe Dahl
NFL status: Lions reserve offensive lineman
Thoughts in a sentence: It’s a make-or-break year for Dahl, who was a developmental pick after having to relearn so much offensive line play coming from Washington State, but he’s a valuable reserve who has versatility.
LB Antwoine Williams
NFL status: Free agent
Thoughts in a sentence: Williams was a surprise cut in 2017, latched on with Minnesota but is out of the league after being released last weekend.
QB Jake Rudock
NFL status: Lions practice squad
Thoughts in a sentence: He was unlikely to ever be a mainstay in Detroit, but he lost the backup job this offseason and it’d be interesting to see if a team comes calling for him off the practice squad this year.
DE Anthony Zettel
NFL status: Claimed by the Browns on Thursday
Thoughts in a sentence: The shift from Jim Caldwell to Matt Patricia likely did Zettel in as his skill set fit less in the Lions’ new defense than its old one, where he had potential.
LS Jimmy Landes
NFL status: Free agent
Thoughts in a sentence: Quinn tried to get cute here in his first draft – it didn’t work since Landes never played an NFL down and players such as safety Jalen Mills, guard Ted Karras and linebacker Elandon Roberts were still available.
NFL status: Saints practice squad
Thoughts in a sentence: The athleticism and flashes of being an NFL back are still there, but he was too deep on the depth chart to keep around this year.