| The Detroit News
While the cast of characters has been overhauled, the debate ahead of this year’s NFL draft figures to be the same for the Detroit Lions — should the franchise draft a quarterback in the first round?
Last year, with the jobs of general manager Bob Quinn and coach Matt Patricia hanging precariously in the balance ahead of the upcoming season, the Lions passed over quarterback prospects Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert in favor of Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah.
To the astute observer, the move was predictable. The Lions went with the player they thought could contribute immediately, as opposed to a future franchise quarterback.
In the end, it didn’t matter. Quinn and Patricia didn’t survive the season.
Now, with a new general manager, new head coach and another top-10 pick, the debate figures to be even more fierce. The key factors this go-around are the organization’s faith in Jared Goff, the incoming former No. 1 pick who will replace Matthew Stafford, how long will the franchise’s rebuild is expected to take, and whether this year’s crop of prospects project out better than next year’s class.
For what it’s worth, Lions rookie general manager Brad Holmes, who spent years as a college scouting director before hiring into this position, is a fan of this year’s group.
“I think that the quarterback class is good this year,” Holmes said. “I like the crop of quarterbacks that are coming out in this year’s draft. That’s obviously always a very, very important position.”
Asked to elaborate on his assessment, Holmes emphasized the varied skill sets of the passers at the top of this class.
“What’s cool about this year is that they’re in all different flavors,” Holmes said. “You have the guy who can actually do it all, can do it from the pocket, do it with his legs. You have another guy that’s probably a little bit more (the type who) does it with his legs, a little bit more being creative. There’s another guy that actually probably does it more from the pocket.
“So, all the different flavors make it very, very intriguing in terms of when you’re looking across the whole scope of the class of these quarterbacks,” Holmes continued. “…I think it’s just smart drafting business, anyway, is that when you’re picking in the top-10, that you make sure that you know that quarterback class very thoroughly.”
The do-everything quarterback Holmes references is presumably Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, who is expected to go No. 1 overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars. BYU’s Zach Wilson and Ohio State’s Justin Fields lean more on their mobility, while Alabama’s Mac Jones is the traditional pocket passer among the group. There’s also North Dakota State’s Trey Lance, another dual threat, who has a short resume, but undeniably high ceiling.
The Lions could conceivably be in play for any of those guys outside of Lawrence, but genuine interest remains unclear for the aforementioned reasons.
Goff, who officially will join the Lions on March 17, the start of the new league year, carries a fully guaranteed $27.8 million cap hit in 2020. He also has more than $15 million in dead money on the deal for 2022, which will only increase if the Lions restructure his deal to clear cap space ahead of this season.
Additionally, coach Dan Campbell told The Detroit News last month he’d prefer to build up the entire roster, as opposed to being pressured into drafting a quarterback for the sake of drafting a quarterback.
That’s why many outside observers, including ESPN’s Mel Kiper, believe the Lions will go a different direction at the top of the draft. In his latest mock, he had the team trading their No. 7 pick to the San Francisco 49ers, dropping back five spots and addressing the woeful defense with Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons.
“Well, I think Kiper, he’s been doing it for a long time and he has his own opinion of where we should go,” Holmes said.
As for Goff, Holmes is prohibited from commenting on the pending trade by league rules until it becomes official, but the Lions GM spoke generally about the soon-to-be-former Rams quarterback and how their pre-existing relationship should play into how the team builds out its roster this offseason.
“Obviously, I have a lot of knowledge. I know Jared very, very well,” Holmes said. “But having a veteran quarterback, obviously, it can shape some decisions in terms of my familiarity with him, knowing kind of what works best for him, what kind of the likes, what he kind of strives for. It does help shape things from a team-building standpoint in terms of adding tools, adding pieces that will fit his skillset.”