NFL draft: Finally, the most important night in Detroit Lions history is here — again

Detroit Free Press

Finally, it’s here. The NFL draft that will propel the Detroit Lions. Or reset the Lions. The most important draft in the history of the Lions.

Like it is every year.

This time, it might actually be true. Because Brad Holmes did a fine job during his first NFL draft last spring.

Holmes, the Lions general manager, took an offensive lineman who looks like a future all-pro and found a receiver in the fourth round who could become a Pro Bowler.

If either his second- or third-round selections turn into dependable — or plus — playmakers well, his first draft will be considered much more than fine.

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All he has to do is do it again. Only better. A reasonable request considering he has three picks among the first 34.

So, while you can fret about the free agents Holmes signed, or didn’t sign, the draft is still where most playoff teams become playoff teams.

This is how it works. The best teams don’t just find difference-makers and solid starters year over year, they hit it big at least once when building a Super Bowl-contending team.

Like Seattle did in 2012, when the Seahawks drafted Russell Wilson, Bobby Wagner, Bruce Irvin, Jeremy Lane and J.R. Sweezy. That’s two future Hall of Famers and three starters. All started for their Super Bowl-winning team the next year.

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Kansas City had three solid drafts from 2013-2016, then hit it big in 2017 when it traded up to the 10th spot to grab Patrick Mahomes. Baltimore went nuts in 2018. Well, Ozzie Newsome did. It was his final draft for the Ravens. What a parting gift it was:

Lamar Jackson, Orlando Brown, Mark Andrews, Bradley Bozeman.

Jackson has been an MVP. Two others made the Pro Bowl.

ESPN compiled a list of teams that found the most value in the draft the last decade. Not surprisingly, Seattle topped the list. Followed by Kansas City, Baltimore, Dallas, Green Bay, Philadelphia, New England, New Orleans, Tampa and Washington.

Eight of those teams played in a Super Bowl. All have made the playoffs, most several times. Yes, free agents and trades are important. But what happens on this night is where nearly all of the most successful franchises thrive.

ESPN ranked the Lions 18th on the list. Maybe that’s higher than you thought.

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Their best haul came in 2013, when Martin Mayhew drafted Ezekiel Ansah, Darius Slay, Sam Martin, Theo Riddick and Larry Warford. When Ansah was healthy, he was as good as any pass rusher in the league. Slay made the Pro Bowl. Martin and Riddick and Warford were all solid.

Mayhew just couldn’t string drafts together consistently. Mostly because it’s hard to do.

It’s not impossible, though. Obviously. And if Holmes can find a couple of players as talented as Ansah and Slay, that would be a good build-on from a year ago.

Still, he’ll need more.

As the best teams have shown, it’s possible to find a couple of difference-makers and a couple of additional starters. Holmes may have done that last year. We’ll see.

With two first round picks and one early second-rounder, he’ll need to do it again. And then get close to it again.

With each draft, Holmes learns. He spoke about the lessons last week when he met with reporters in Allen Park.

“If there is a player that we have buy-in and that we want, I’m going to try to get that player,” he said.

But?

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“There is value in being patient and sitting back,” he said. “You’ve just got to assess where the value is on your draft board and kind of what the volume and depth is … Sometimes you’ve got to be aggressive and go and get him.”

The context was Levi Onwuzurike, the Lions’ defensive lineman and second-round pick last year. Holmes had told the Free Press’ Dave Birkett last year that he’d made a few attempts to trade up to get him. He couldn’t find any takers.

Onwuzurike fell to the Lions anyway.

“Sometimes the draft gods smile on you a little bit,” he said then.

They have to. I mean, they don’t have to, but if they don’t, it’s impossible to draft well. Take Kansas City. The scouts and front office liked Mahomes. Enough to trade up to get him.

But did they see this? A quarterback who could end up being the best ever by the time he retires?

Of course not. No one did. Or he wouldn’t have fallen to 10th.

This isn’t to dismiss the film study and combine metrics and interviews and background checks that all help paint a portrait of what a player is capable of in the NFL. It’s all important.

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So is serendipity.

St. Brown, for example, looks like a second-day, draft-day theft. A fourth-rounder?

Clearly, Holmes liked him. He wouldn’t have drafted him otherwise. But did he know St. Brown would set a franchise record in receiving yards for a rookie?

That’s impossible to see. At some point, you’re guessing.

You’ve also got to see a little, maybe more than a little. Holmes showed a year ago that he and his staff might be able to see. He’ll need to.

Tonight is only the most important night in franchise history … again.

Contact Shawn Windsor: 313-222-6487 or swindsor@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @shawnwindsor. 

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