In a draft with no truly elite prospects, Detroit Lions general manager Brad Holmes said there is little distinguishing the players at the top of his board.
“The cluster of players that we’re looking at are very, very evenly rated and graded,” Holmes said in his annual pre-draft news conference Thursday. “And I’ve always said it’s just what fits your team the best. And what fulfills who’s the best football player and who may fill a need there, or who’s the best fit for the future and how you can be set up for success going forward. So you kind of factor in all those things.”
The Lions have the No. 2 overall pick and three of the first 34 selections in a draft that lacks glitzy names at the offensive skill positions.
Quarterbacks Malik Willis and Kenny Pickett are potential top-10 picks and the draft is deep at receiver, but as many as seven of the first 10 selections could be linemen on both sides of the ball.
The Lions do have a significant need for a pass rusher, but Holmes insisted once again that he is not limited to taking specific positions at the top of the draft. In the past 10 years, running back Saquon Barkley is the only non-quarterback, edge rusher or offensive tackle to go in the top two.
More important than position, Holmes said, is finding “a game-changer” with the No. 2 pick, a description that differed slightly from when head coach Dan Campbell told beat reporters he wanted “a Day 1 starter” at that spot in the draft.
“I’ve been saying all along that we’re looking for a game-changer at that pick and really any pick,” Holmes said. “And that’s at all positions, so if that position is a quarterback then it’s a quarterback. And just because often it’s being stated that, ‘Well, picking up there, it’s got to be the quarterback or a pass rusher or a tackle and all that kind of stuff.’ But look, I said from Day 1, give me a game-changer at any position, and there are multiple positions where we do see that potential game-changers could be there in the future.”
Holmes spent about 30 minutes answering questions Thursday, but offered few specifics about the Lions’ plans. Here are some of the highlights:
• Holmes was asked, in a roundabout way, about two of the prospects most commonly linked to the Lions with the No. 2 pick, Oregon pass rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux and Georgia defensive lineman Travon Walker.
Thibodeaux is considered one of the most talented players in the draft, but there are questions about whether he is a culture fit in Detroit. Walker is one of the most toolsy players in the draft. He ran a 4.51-second 40-yard dash at 6 feet 5 and 272 pounds and has 35½-inch arms, but he had limited sack production (9.5) in three seasons while playing on a powerhouse defense at Georgia.
Asked what allowances can be made for talented players who might not have ideal football character, Holmes said football character is “extremely high on our list of standards.”
“From a talent versus football character standpoint, you do got to be careful,” he said. “You got to make sure, ‘OK, just because a guy is talented, if he doesn’t have the football character required, will he reach his potential? Will he be coachable enough so the coaches can develop that player?’ You got to be mindful of that.”
As for how much college production matters, Holmes said it’s something that can’t be ignored, “but you also got to look at those critical factors of the actual player.”
“Is he doing everything in his power? Does he have the skill set? Does he have the traits to do certain things? Does he have the football character?” Holmes said. “There are a lot of different factors that can come in and can project to more production when they get into the NFL. How were they used, their scheme in college versus what our scheme is going to be? There’s a lot of different factors that go into that, but you definitely can’t ignore the actual production because that’s really factual.”
• The Lions are one of eight teams with two first-round picks next week, Nos. 2 and 32 overall, and Holmes said there are challenges to having multiple picks in Round 1.
“I will say it’s a little bit different in terms of not just two, but also 32 and 34,” he said. “You’re almost going back-to-back, but the nights are split. Last year we were seven and then to 41, so you’ve got time to plan. I do think it does kind of alter your planning and preparation slightly. But that’s basically what we’ve been doing this whole time. Those alterations and adjustments have been made already, so we’ll be ready to roll.”
While the Lions’ draft board is largely set, Holmes said “things are fluid here and there’s some new information coming in as we speak, but we’re confident in our process up to this point.”
• The Lions also are one of five teams with two first-round picks in next year’s draft. Holmes said he would not make decisions in this draft based on the strength of next year’s class, which is expected to have more top-end quarterback talent.
“You don’t want to pass up a good football player that can help your team,” he said. “Now, look, in our system our scouts do a great job. They already know next year’s draft class. I can look in to see like, ‘OK, this is what the ’23 draft looks like.’ But you just don’t know what’s going to happen with new information coming on. You don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. You don’t know what’s going to happen the next month. You don’t know what’s going to happen the next year. You can’t really make decisions based off that.”
Still, Holmes said he is interested in acquiring extra 2023 draft capital in the next week.
“Sure because it’s equating to your future,” he said. “What Dan and I have been trying to build here, you want to have future capital. That’s always important and we have that already for the ’23 draft. If we’re in the position that we can add even more future capital, that just kind of, that kind of makes things better, a little bit more optimism you could say for our future. But again, you can’t base all the decisions based on this year’s draft.”
• Standard rookie contracts are four years, but players taken in Round 1 have a fifth-year team option on their contract. Historically, that has made the final few picks of Round 1 — the Lions hold the last pick of the round this year — valuable trading chips for teams looking to come up for quarterbacks.
“If you pick a quarterback there at 32, obviously, you do have that fifth-year option,” Holmes said. “A team that’s sitting right at the top of the second round, or middle of the second round that wants to trade up in front of us to pick a quarterback, so there is value there because obviously you just don’t know how long — you assume how long you think it’ll take to develop a quarterback and when they’ll be available to help you, but you have that extra year.”