The 2018 NFL Draft is over and it’s time to take a look at the results for our beloved Detroit Lions. The picks for Detroit were as follows:
1) Frank Ragnow, C, Arkansas
2.) Kerryon Johnson, RB, Auburn
3.) Tracy Walker, S, Louisiana
4.) Da’Shawn Hand, DT, Alabama
5.) Tyrell Crosby, OT Oregon
7.) Nick Bawden, FB, San Diego St.
On the initial glance, the first thought that comes to mind is that Bob Quinn loves himself some SEC/southern football players. The second thought that comes to mind is that the Lions are going all in on producing an elite offense to win shootouts and cover up the defense. The third thought is that these picks aren’t super surprising given that they reflect two trademarks of the Quinn era and the Patricia scheme: versatile/multi-positional players without character issues. Let’s dive in.
1st Round Pick: Frank Ragnow, C, Arkansas
I was somewhat blindsided by the pick because DE Harold Landry was on the board. Landry has his downsides, that he can’t really play run defense and that he has injury issues, but he’s a great athlete and the Lions couldn’t rush the passer to save their lives last year, save for the two monster Ziggy Ansah games. Thus, I was pretty upset at the time, and also because I perceived this to be an overdrafting of Ragnow. However, upon further review, he certainly wasn’t overdrafted, given that Cincinnati was set to take him with the very next pick. And after learning more about him, it’s hard not to be impressed. He’s an elite athlete who graded out as one of Pro Football Focus’s best centers in college history, who failed to surrender a single sack his entire college career, while playing against elite talent like Alabama. The Lions were in need of an interior lineman after they let Travis Swanson walk following a dreadful 2017 campaign, so it was good fit and appropriate value for the top center in the draft. No major issues here.
2nd Round Pick: Kerryon Johnson, RB, Auburn
When the Lions traded up to get Johnson, many thought it was to nab Derrius Guice, the most talented RB in the draft. But the Lions have made it abundantly clear that they aren’t interested in players with character problems (look at how they didn’t pick Reuben Foster last year) and so it was Johnson instead. I don’t really have a preference on who was picked as the running back of the future/present and of course there are upsides and downsides to every player, including Johnson. The value wasn’t bad considering he was likely to be the next RB off the board, but trading up to get him was a hefty price. The one thing I like about Johnson is that one of his strengths is his vision and patience, being likened to a poor man’s Le’Veon Bell, and that’s something I can live with. Last season, even when the occasional hole opened, the Lions RB group couldn’t seem to find it. At the very least, that should change with Johnson.
3rd Round Pick: Tracy Walker, S, Louisiana
This was a rather strange pick and one that I’m probably the least happy with. Walker seems like a fine prospect and all, but it just didn’t seem like the Lions needed another DB. His ability to play multiple positions makes him a good fit for the Lions’ scheme, and I assume Detroit sees him as a successor to Quandre Diggs/Glover Quin, but it’s going to be a very crowded DB group with Slay, Shead, Lawson, Diggs, Tabor, Quin, Wilson, Killebrew, and Walker next season. I would be surprised if Walker does more than special teams in his rookie campaign, which just made it bizarre value.
4th Round Pick: Da’Shawn Hand, DT, Alabama
Hand is a fascinating prospect and a pick I really like regardless of how it turns out. In the first two rounds of the draft, it’s all about simply getting impact players. The prospects are much easier to project and just not swinging and missing is the most important part. But when you get in the late rounds, it becomes more about finding the diamond in the rough, the Richard Sherman types. Thus, in my opinion, ceiling/potential is the most important thing to be looking for in late round guys, and Hand is this. Hand was among the top recruits in the country and his ceiling remains sky high. At Alabama, he was just never able to reach it, but a 5 star recruit who graded out as a 2nd round pick before injury hit is a good use of a 4th round pick. He has the versatility to play inside and out, either at DT or DE, a perfect scheme fit with high upside.
5th Round Pick: Tyrell Crosby, OT, Oregon
This was the best value pick in the Lions draft, a guy who graded as a late 2nd rounder and then tumbled all the way to the 5th. The clear best player available, Crosby also fits the versatility mold. He should be able to compete immediately for a spot at guard, while being developed to be either the guard when TJ Lang’s contract is up, or the future RT when Rick Wagner leaves. Last season he was the PAC-12 Offensive Lineman of the Year and never gave up a sack, showing he produced big time at the collegiate level. Additionally his versatility is big for depth given how injury riddled Detroit’s offensive line was last year and how many unappetizing players were pushed into starting roles (remember Brian Mihalik? Greg Robinson? Dan Skipper?). Love this pick.
7th Round Pick: Nick Bawden, FB, San Diego St.
By the time the 7th round arrives, it’s anyone’s guess, and a fullback isn’t a bad use of a pick here. Bawden is likely to see time right away, given that the only guy on the Detroit roster who even saw snaps at fullback last year was actually a linebacker (Nick Bellore). I would also expect Bawden to see time on special teams. Admittedly I don’t know much about him and there aren’t a lot of accessible fullback stats. That said, he was a lead blocker for Rashaad Penny at San Diego State, a 2,000 yard rusher and a first round NFL pick this year, so he can’t be bad. I like that the Lions are bringing the fullback back and it seems like this is a better use of a 7th rounder than for some player who may never even make the 53-man roster.
I’m going to issue an ultimatum: the Detroit Lions’ running game must become at least an average attack next year or else Bob Quinn has failed at building the offense. That’s just the facts. There is way, way, way too much talent and way too much capital invested in the OLine for it to be dreadful again. When Quinn took over, it was a really bad group, as this was the starting group:
Riley Reiff - Larry Warford - Travis Swanson - Laken Tomlinson - Cornelius Lucas
The new offensive line will be Decker-Glasgow-Ragnow-Lang-Wagner, with Crosby, Wesley Johnson, and Corey Robinson as backups. When Decker was healthy in 2016, he graded out at PFF as an above average LT, while as a rookie. Glasgow emerged as average to above average last year, while Lang is a Pro Bowl caliber player next to a rock in Wagner. Throw in Ragnow and then better depth, that group has got to be good. Really good. The running game alone cost the Lions 2-3 games last year, the difference between playoffs and no playoffs. It needs to be able to make defenses respect the play action, and punch it in on the goal line and on 3rd and short (remember the Pittsburgh game? Atlanta game?).
And so as a bigger picture, Quinn & Co. are going all-in on the offense. Last season the offense was 13th in YPG and 7th in PPG, while sporting a bottom 3 rushing attack. With an average running game and an offensive line that is good at pass protecting, it should be top 5, probably top 3. You need at least one elite unit to contend in the NFL, and this would give the Lions that, if it all works out.
In many ways, Quinn is building the Lions a lot like New England. The Patriots have been a top 3 offense in the NFL each of the last two years, with a not great defense with subpar talent. However, they’ve played for Super Bowls because Matt Patricia’s bend-not-break system, that would land the Patriots near the bottom in YPG (#29 last year), yet above-average in PPG allowed (#1 last year). Sometimes it would catch up to them (Super Bowl LII), but his system has been able to juice a lot of production out of not great talent, while the offense masks the deficiencies and wins in shootouts, including Super Bowl LI. That’s the mold the Lions are in. It worked for New England the last two years, for Atlanta in 2016. It just needs to work for Detroit. And if it does, watch out for the Leos, opposing defenses, because it could become an offensive juggernaut that the Motor City has never seen before.