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Wojo: Lions' Quinn hunting for more draft gems

Bob Wojnowski
The Detroit News

Allen Park — Dare I say, Bob Quinn appears to know what he’s doing. His first draft was stellar and his free-agent acquisitions have been prudent. As Lions general managers go, he’s exceeding standards, which isn’t difficult.

But one productive draft doesn’t turn around a team, and no one gets a bronze bust just by avoiding brutal busts. So before we officially declare Quinn the most-promising GM in Lions history, we have a simple request: Put together back-to-back productive drafts.

Sounds simple, right? It’s the only way winning teams are built to last, and it’s something the Lions miraculously have failed to do for half a century. The Lions need defensive players, lots of them, and I suspect they’ll grab one quickly. They also need a running back, a big one. They need yet another receiver. But mainly, they need to stick to a plan, evidenced by the smart signings of offensive linemen Ricky Wagner and T.J. Lang.

It’s not yet time for a major gamble, which was a common mistake in the years BBQ — Before Bob Quinn. Here’s a motto that works in many businesses, especially pro sports: Don’t try to be the smartest guy in the room, unless you really are the smartest guy in the room, and odds are, you aren’t.

At some point in tonight’s first round, the Lions will be tempted to do something rash with the 21st pick. And if a supreme talent becomes available, they should consider it, even if it’s an offensive skill player. This isn’t about being safe or sorry. It’s about picking the right player for the right reasons, not to make a splash or win a public-relations game.

Two solid possibilities for the Lions are Florida linebacker Jarrad Davis and Temple linebacker Haason Reddick, if available. Risky possible picks are Alabama’s Reuben Foster, the best linebacker but a questionable character, and Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers, who also raised red flags. My pick would be Missouri defensive end Charles Harris because he does something the Lions couldn’t do last season — sack the quarterback.

Two other wild cards: Alabama tight end O.J. Howard, a terrific talent, and Florida State’s Dalvin Cook, a gifted runner who might fall to 21. If either is there, Quinn will have a tough choice, and based on his reputation for maniacal preparation, the contingency plan is in place.

Perfect 10

Judging by last year’s draft, the Lions aren’t looking for flash or projects. All 10 picks are still with the team, eight got playing time and three (offensive linemen Taylor Decker and Graham Glasgow, defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson) started in the playoff loss to Seattle.

The Lions have eight picks this year, and rather than chasing the shiniest object, Quinn must continue to balance the roster.

Lions GM Quinn moving toward best-player approach

“Hopefully we can get all eight guys to contribute,” Quinn said. “Sometimes that happens, sometimes it doesn’t. But my goal is, every draft pick we take is either going to contribute to the team at some point in their rookie year, if not, by their second year at the very latest.”

Before we anoint Quinn the Lions’ Patriot-Way Savior, the Anti-Millen, it’s important to note the stakes never stop rising. He’s drafting 21st, not 16th, where Decker was perfectly safe. He has to decide by May 2 whether to pick up the fifth-year option on up-and-down tight end Eric Ebron, a decision that will be affected by who he drafts.

Quinn doesn’t appear to be afflicted by a common weakness in the brutal NFL — loyalty. In barely a year, he shuffled the entire offensive line, letting Riley Reiff and Larry Warford depart and bumping first-rounder Laken Tomlinson to a backup. He retained Jim Caldwell but hasn’t committed to a new contract (as far as we know).

Even after Matthew Stafford led the Lions to a record eight comeback victories and into the postseason, Quinn hasn’t yet hammered out a contract extension. It’s still highly likely he will, but no sense tipping your strategy until it’s necessary.

Bevy of busts

And then there’s the rest of the draft after tonight’s first-round extravaganza. Quinn and his staff did well in the upper-middle rounds last season with Robinson, Glasgow and safety Miles Killebrew. If it continues, it would be the most-dramatic change from the reigns of Matt Millen and Martin Mayhew, and we might have to stop carving our Mount Bustmore of Lions gaffes.

The Lions have had a nasty habit of alternating decent and horrible drafts, almost as if one season’s success gave the sitting GM confidence to take risks the following season. For instance, after landing Ziggy Ansah, Darius Slay, Warford, punter Sam Martin and back Theo Riddick in a fine 2013 haul, Mayhew’s top picks in 2014 were Ebron (No. 10 overall) and linebacker Kyle Van Noy, who barely played before Quinn traded him to New England.

Mock drafters side with Lions taking defensive end

Drafting high in the first round is supposed to be the easy part, where you grab the top skilled players. Drafting judiciously in rounds 2-4 are where GMs make their reputations.

I apologize for doing this, but here’s a partial list of players drafted by Mayhew and Millen in rounds 2-4, who bombed out either because of injury or ineffectiveness: Kalimba Edwards, Andre Goodman, John Taylor, Boss Bailey, Artose Pinner, Teddy Lehman, Keith Smith, Shaun Cody, Stanley Wilson, Daniel Bullocks, Spliffy McGoofavich, Brian Calhoun, Ikaika Alama-Francis, Gerald Alexander, Jordon Dizon, Derrick Williams, Amari Spievey, Titus Young, Mikel Leshoure, Ryan Broyles, Dwight Bentley and Ronnell Lewis. Believe it or not, I only made up one of those names.

By Lions standards, Quinn did very well last year, stirring uncommon faith among the faithful. By NFL success standards, he has to do it again and again, meticulously and methodically, and preferably bust-free.

Bob.wojnowski@detroitnews.com

Twitter.com/bobwojnowski