Why Brad Holmes’ chance to forge new Detroit Lions era truly begins with 2021 NFL draft

Detroit Free Press

There’s no pressure on you, Brad Holmes.

Seriously, none at all.

Detroit Lions fans aren’t asking for much.

Just hit a home run Thursday night in the first round of your first NFL draft as the general manager of the Lions.

Or better yet, trade back and get even more picks — oh goodness, please trade back.

Create the core that will turn around this franchise.

Start to fix a pathetic defense. Getting some actual NFL players who can tackle, stop the run and rush the quarterback would be a fine improvement. Remember, this team had the worst defense in franchise history, setting records for most points and yards allowed in a season.

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Uncover some wide receivers who can get open on their own and hold onto the ball. Finding another Cooper Kupp, as you did with the Rams, would work just perfectly.

Improve the team’s speed and toughness.

Get some guys who will gnaw on some kneecaps — hey, wait, did new coach Dan Campbell put that in this list?

Make sure none of these draft picks are knuckleheads with legal issues or drug problems or have a history of concussion issues; or as we say around here, Lions picks of the past.

Yep, no pressure at all.

“I think the preparation process leading up to the point does alleviate a lot of that pressure,” Holmes said. “A lot of the decisions are already made well before draft day.”

Anything but ‘Same Ol’ Lions’

Obviously, it would be unfair to think that Holmes will be able turn around this franchise in one draft and one cycle of free agency.

We’ll give him at least two before the pitchforks come out.

But this will still be exciting, just to see what he will do. And if he makes some good, easy-to-understand choices, that would be a vastly different approach from what we are used to.

Think back to Holmes’ introductory press conference.

Lions president Rod Wood was describing how Holmes used analytics to approach the draft for the Los Angeles Rams.

Suddenly, Lions owner Sheila Ford Hamp piped up and said, “I was just gonna say that, definitely cutting edge, definitely different from, I think, pretty much, what we’ve been doing here.

“So Brad’s gonna bring a lot of new ideas and, as I said, analytics are fabulous. And he always says get as much information as possible. But then there’s the intuitive part of it, too. And he’s got that as well.”

More than anything, that idea excites me about this draft. Just the idea that he might do things that are — in Hamp’s words — “definitely different.”

“Different” a whole lot better than what the Lions’ two-pronged draft strategy has felt like in the past:

1. Grab for shiny objects;

2. Throw a dart against a draft board and hope you find something.

Gut-check time

Holmes came into this job with a reputation for finding players and building a draft board. He was the Rams’ director of college scouting, a role in which he excelled.

But now, we are going to find out if the secret to the Rams’ success was his draft board and the players he found; or general manager Les Snead, who ultimately pulled the trigger and made the picks.

Because it’s one thing to evaluate the ingredients — it’s another to make a meal.

Or a deal. Or construct an entire roster.

This team has countless holes, so it’s good Holmes has a history of finding good players outside of Round 1 .

He needs to find a safety — one like John Johnson, a 2017 third-rounder taken by the Rams. Johnson signed with the Cleveland Browns in the offseason, but he had eight interceptions and 350 tackles in four seasons with the Rams. Yeah, that would work.

He needs to find another corner. One like Janoris Jenkins, a 2012 Rams second-rounder, who became a Pro Bowler, albeit with the New York Giants in 2016.

He needs to get some depth on the offensive line — somebody like right tackle Rob Havenstein, a 2015 second-rounder who slipped into a starting role as a rookie and has started 84 games in six seasons.

So what is he looking for?

“Does a guy play hard or he does not?” Holmes said. “Does he have a high motor or does he (not)? Does he take plays off, does he not? Does he love football, does he not? So, those are the standards that we look for, but having that grit, passion for football that’s at an elite level, those are pretty much the standards that are the fits, more so of if the guy is just a scheme fit.”

So now, everything rests with Holmes. All the pressure falls on him.

“Ultimately that’s what it comes down to at the end of the day is what is in your gut,” he said.

The first-round pick will get all the headlines, but it is the later rounds that will determine how fast this rebuild lasts.

Or even if it works at all.

So no pressure, Holmes. None at all.

Just, don’t screw this up.

Because we already know what that looks like.

Contact Jeff Seidel: jseidel@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel.

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