How Aaron Donald shaped Lions GM Brad Holmes’ draft philosophy

Detroit News

A little more than a decade ago, back when he was a scout for the St. Louis Rams, Brad Holmes was on a visit to Pitt.

Holmes, now the Detroit Lions general manager, got a tip from the defensive coordinator: Come out to practice a half-hour early.

“And he didn’t tell me why. … I go out there and I walk out to the (practice) bubble, and it’s the ball boys, the equipment managers, the specialists…and Aaron Donald. Those are the only people in the bubble,” Holmes recalled.

“And Aaron Donald is sitting on his back, fully taped up with this twitch in his knee, as if like, ‘Man, I’ve been waiting for this all day. Where’s everybody at? Because I’ve been waiting on this all day.’”

Just like that, a draft philosophy was hatched. Holmes shared the details of the scouting process that shaped him in a 70-minute interview with Peter Schrager on “The Season,” which gave a ton of insight into how Holmes whittles down his draft list as GM of the Lions.

While it’d be ambitious to project any draft pick Holmes has made in Detroit as a future Hall-of-Famer, it’s easy to see the same makeup in guys like right tackle Penei Sewell and wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, both of whom went in Holmes’ first draft in 2021.

“It was the same way with (Rams wide receiver and former Super Bowl MVP) Cooper Kupp when we drafted him,” Holmes said. “And that’s when it really hit me. I’m like, ‘Look, man. If these players don’t have the intangibles and the passion and the work ethic and the football character, it’s not gonna work. That’s just the bottom line.’”

Here are some other highlights from the interview, in which Holmes details his entire post-college career, the car accident that changed his life and much more.

Watch the full thing here.

Jared Goff trade: Though Holmes has come out in support of Lions quarterback Jared Goff time and time again, there will always be some folks with the idea that Holmes has always intended to move on from the former No. 1-overall pick, who was sent back to Detroit in the Matthew Stafford trade — Holmes’ first big move as general manager of the Lions.

Holmes shared details regarding the trade, which reveal how he’s truly felt about Goff all along.

“I’ll never forget, (Rams general manager) Les (Snead) asked me … ’Do you want Jared in this trade?’ And I  was like, ‘Hell, yeah. Absolutely,’” Holmes said. “It wasn’t like, ‘Just give me any quarterback. No, I was like, ‘I want Jared in this trade.’

“The reason why I’m so proud of him and why I’m so happy for him is because, that first year (in Detroit), man … the way that the narrative was of how the trade went, it kind of went, ‘Oh, Jared can’t play.’ I’m like, ‘Dude, this guy was just playing in the (NFC) Divisional (round) playing with a broken hand, completing 70% of his passes. Like, why can’t he play anymore?’”

Holmes said Goff’s toughness is the “one trait that goes overlooked.”

“He’s a Detroit Lion. He’s that. He embodies what the city’s about, and I think the toughness and everything he’s endured, I think everybody just has a lot more appreciation about him,” Holmes said.

2023 Draft: While Holmes has explained his first-round draft picks to the local media six ways to Sunday, his interview with Schrager was the first time he used a scene from the movie “Training Day” (2001) to describe the strength of the draft class and how it impacted his approach.

“Get who we want and just shoot our way out of there,” Holmes said.

Typically, Holmes said, teams have about 17 first-round grades on guys; the most he’s seen is 20. This year, the Lions only gave out 14 first-round grades. And for anybody still questioning whether Jack Campbell, a projected second-rounder, went too high…

“When I say it was only 14 guys, Jack Campbell wasn’t 14th,” Holmes said.

▶ Message to Lions fans: Asked if he wanted to give a message to Lions fans, Holmes said, “Continue to stick with us and just continue to know that we’re not done yet. Just know that we’re always gonna work hard, keep our pedal to the metal. We’re always gonna stay aggressive. I love the fact that — it’s a lot of this what they call ‘buzz’ and ‘hope’ and I think this fanbase and our city deserves that, just through all that they’ve been through.

“But at the end of the day, me and (head coach Dan Campbell) know that we haven’t made the playoffs yet. That’s what has to be — we gotta get in the dance and we got full faith and optimism that we’ve got the right structure in place and that we can get that done, but we gotta go out there and prove it, and that’s how we’re wired.

“We’re all about accountability and earning it, doing it the right way, and that’s what the city of Detroit is. It’s roll up the sleeves, get it done, no excuses. Just know that your football team is doing the exact same thing.

Twitter: @nolanbianchi

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