Niyo: When it comes to drafting a QB, NFL teams — Lions included — are calling an audible

Detroit News

Allen Park — Almost everybody passed.

And in what is undeniably a passing league, that tells you everything you need to know about how NFL teams viewed the quarterbacks available in this year’s draft class.

The Lions included, though we still can’t say for sure exactly how general manager Brad Holmes truly feels about the position — and the players filling it in Detroit, from Jared Goff to Tim Boyle and David Blough — moving forward.

So if you’re trying to muster some outrage over the Lions’ ignoring a perceived need at quarterback, go ahead and go crazy. Go bang the drum for Sam Howell on Day 3 of the draft if it makes you feel better, too.

But if there’s strength in numbers, there’s a pretty strong argument to be made — after 105 picks over two long nights in the 2022 NFL Draft — that the Lions are on the right side of this one. Regardless of what you think of Goff’s future here.

There was only one quarterback drafted in Thursday’s first round: Kenny Pickett, probably the only legitimate NFL-ready QB prospect in this draft, went to Pittsburgh with the 20th overall pick. That was the latest the first quarterback had come off the board in a draft since 1997, when Jim Druckenmiller (No. 26) was the lone first-rounder.

And that should’ve been your first clue, assuming you’d missed all the hints NFL personnel people were dropping the last few months in particular: If you were looking for a franchise quarterback in this draft, you were going to have to squint real hard.

Still, there had been plenty of talk that even in a weak quarterback draft, some QB-needy team might trade up to the end of the first round to snag a quarterback and secure a fifth-year option on his rookie deal. But no team did, though Minnesota general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah did say he fielded a trade call or two for the 32nd pick late Thursday. Rather than make a deal, though, he went ahead and drafted a safety, Georgia’s Lewis Cine, with the pick he’d acquired from the Lions earlier in the night.

Of course, that only fueled speculation that we’d see a run on quarterbacks to start Round 2 on Friday. Instead, we saw another run on … wide receivers? Seven more went in the second round, including Western Michigan’s Skyy Moore, after six — the second-most ever — had gone in the first round.

But quarterbacks? None in the second round. Zip, zilch, nada. This was only the third time in history that just one quarterback went in the first two rounds of the NFL draft, and the first since that infamous 2000 draft when the only real keeper (Tom Brady) lasted until pick No. 199.

There were trades, yes. But not for a quarterback. Atlanta moved up early in the second round, but they decided to spend their draft capital on an edge rusher, Penn State’s Arnold Ebiketie. Seattle had back-to-back picks at Nos. 40 and 41 thanks to their blockbuster trade of Russell Wilson earlier this offseason. A trade that left Pete Carroll with Drew Lock as his starting quarterback, mind you.

But the Seahawks didn’t turn in a card with the name of Liberty’s Malik Willis or Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder or even Mississippi’s Matt Corral. No, Seattle ran out the clock before taking an edge rusher in Minnesota’s Boye Mafe, then followed that up with a running back — the second of the night — in Michigan State’s Kenneth Walker III.

On it went like that, with ESPN’s “best available” board overloaded with quarterbacks at the top and the draft ticker all but mocking it every 7 minutes or so.

Willis and Corral had both been invited to attend the NFL Draft in Las Vegas only to sit through an entire night in the green room without hearing their names called. Willis opted not to go back for more torture Friday — “I didn’t have another suit,” he joked — and instead rented out a bowling alley in Vegas for his family and friends.

Finally, Ridder came off the board to Atlanta with the 74th overall pick, or the 10th selection of the third round. That was the latest a second quarterback was taken in a draft since 1996, when none went in the first round. (Michigan State’s Tony Banks was the first to come off the board at No. 42. that year, followed by Ohio State’s Bobby Hoying at No. 85.)

That the Falcons took a quarterback was hardly a surprise, considering the team lost out in a bidding war for DeShaun Watson this offseason and then traded veteran Matt Ryan to Indianapolis in the awkward aftermath of those trade talks. Their general manager, Terry Fontenot, admitted last week he wanted to come out of this draft with a young quarterback to develop behind new starter Marcus Mariota, and so Ridder it was.

Willis’ interminable wait finally ended about 10:30 p.m. ET, as Tennessee traded up to No. 86 and snagged the quarterback some scouts pegged as the one with the most upside. And arguably the biggest project as well.

But it’s a decent fit, frankly, with Ryan Tannehill probably facing a make-or-break year with a playoff team and Willis brought in on what amounts to a redshirt year. There’s no pressure on him to play, or produce right away there, and there’s also a roster with far fewer holes to fill than the one in Detroit, for what it’s worth.

There are myriad reasons to explain the rest of the NFL’s reluctance in this draft. Some of it revolves around the trade carousel that still hasn’t stopped this spring. Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield remains on the block, as does the 49ers’ Jimmy Garoppolo.

But most of it, I think, has to do with the apparent absence of a franchise quarterback in this draft, which is why all the huffing and puffing about the Lions’ need to take one this year never made sense to me.

Or to Brad Holmes, by the sound of it. Late Friday night, after the Lions had completed their Day 2 deliberations by adding a safety (Illinois’ Kerby Joseph) to the defensive end (Josh Paschal) they’d taken earlier, the GM was asked why the QBs kept lingering on NFL teams’ draft boards.

“Well,” Holmes said, chuckling before he continued, “I’m trying to think the best way to answer that.”

And then he proceeded to do just that, as tactfully as he could.

“I think the quarterbacks were evaluated and graded what they were evaluated and graded as,” he said. “Look, in personnel, we can’t control how the media grades and evaluates, and how the outside people grade and evaluate people. So when quarterbacks are being tabbed as this, that, that and that by the outside narrative …”

Well, that doesn’t mean the teams have to live with it. Or eventually lose their jobs because of it, which is often what happens when personnel execs take a quarterback early and then have to answer for it when the prospect doesn’t pan out.

“I looked at the quarterbacks and I thought that they were taken where we thought they should’ve been taken, at least from our standpoint,” Holmes continued. “I didn’t see it as they were being mistreated or not being taken fairly. I just think they were evaluated properly.”

And in the final evaluation, the Lions — like most teams — opted to take a pass.

Twitter: @JohnNiyo

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