Wojo: Lions’ Quinn makes right move with the safe pick
Allen Park — From the outside, it might have looked like a difficult choice. To the Lions, it was an easy one.
They got their linebacker and didn’t have to sweat it, and didn’t have to spend much time sifting through red flags. GM Bob Quinn’s draft strategy was apparent again in the first round Thursday night, when the Lions landed speedy, athletic Jarrad Davis from Florida.
You can call it the safe pick, but that would be simplistic. This worked out well for the Lions, who watched desperate teams leap all over the board for quarterbacks and other offensive players, leaving them an array of defensive options. And just as he showed last year when he took offensive tackle Taylor Decker in the first round, Quinn resisted the temptation to gamble. At some point, he’ll probably have to take a risky leap, but the first round generally isn’t the place, and this wasn’t the time.
Alabama’s Reuben Foster was considered the best linebacker in the draft, but as the night unfolded, team after team passed. He had been flagged for a diluted urine sample at the combine in Indianapolis, which is treated as a positive drug test, and was sent home after an alleged dispute with a hospital worker. More telling, there were conflicting reports about the severity of his shoulder injuries and concussions, and he plummeted to the 49ers at No. 31.
The farther Foster fell — as well as flashy Florida State running back Dalvin Cook, who didn’t go in the first round — the easier it was to understand the Lions’ decision. Of course, the real tough choices will come Friday and Saturday in the final six rounds, but at least the Lions head into it knowing they addressed their biggest need.
“It’s a position we had trouble with last year, keeping guys healthy, and it’s a position where I think you really need a guy in the middle that can be looked upon to call the defense,” Quinn said. “It was a position of need for sure. … There were a number of players we were kind of looking at about five picks before, and it was going to be a tough decision. But the board fell the way it did, and it’s a player we targeted and a player we wanted, and we were fortunate to get him.”
One of the players who went shortly before the Lions’ pick was Alabama tight end O.J. Howard, No. 19 to Tampa Bay. It he’d slid two more slots, that might’ve been one of those tough decisions.
Quinn said he fielded a few calls about trading down, but nothing serious. He has proven steady and precise in his two drafts here, and has been successful so far by sticking to the plan and not ignoring his team’s weaknesses. How many times did you see opposing tight ends sprint merrily down the field against the Lions’ overmatched linebackers last season? With DeAndre Levy gone, the Lions desperately needed someone to patrol the middle, and the 6-foot-1, 238-pound Davis has the speed to chase down tight ends and running backs.
Davis showed it on a loaded Florida defense, despite missing four games with an ankle injury last season. If there’s a concern, that’s it, along with a knee injury he suffered as a sophomore. There are no perfect prospects, but Davis’ intangibles — leadership, football passion, selfless play — have been roundly praised.
“I bring that hard-working mentality,” Davis said. “I’m a guy that does everything for the benefit of the team. I’m not a guy who tries to steal the spotlight.”
He’ll have to grab some of it as a rookie, playing alongside veteran Tahir Whitehead. And while much of the NFL focused on Alabama stars falling — purported top-10 defensive end Jonathan Allen went to Washington at 17 — the Lions happily scooped up the guy that should help their famished defense immediately.
“He’s a tough kid, he’s today’s inside linebacker — he can run, he can stay in the game on third down, he has physicality and speed,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said. “Excellent pick.”
We don’t know if Davis will turn out to be an excellent pro player, but we do know he was selected for the right reasons, at just about the spot most experts pegged him. Others might have more upside, but sometimes it comes with more downside.
Quinn greatly values character, and hasn’t shown much patience for characters.
“You have to evaluate the player on the field, and you have to evaluate the person that comes along with it,” Quinn said. “You’re drafting the whole person, the whole player, not just on Sundays.”
It seemed especially important in this draft, which had as much uncertainty and unpredictability as ever. There were bizarre moves, such as the Bears trading three picks to the 49ers to move up one spot and grab quarterback Mitch Trubisky at No. 2. Western Michigan receiver Corey Davis rocketed to the Titans at No. 5, while Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers, who also tested for a diluted sample at the combine, went to the Browns at 25.
The Lions need more playmakers on both sides of the ball, and as Quinn stocks the roster, I assume he’ll dig deeper for them. For now, plugging holes and minimizing risk is the strategy, and it makes the most sense.