Wojo: It's a puzzle, but here's who the Lions should draft

Bob Wojnowski
The Detroit News

Allen Park — This is confusing, as confusing as ever. The prelude to the NFL draft always is a mix of lies and alibis, and it’s up to the expertly trained journalist to sift through shifting messages.

In the absence of that, you got me.

Brian Burns

This is Bob Quinn’s fourth draft as Lions GM, and easily his most important because he possesses his highest slot –— No. 8 — which means he has the most to gain and the most to lose.

He can’t play it safe with his first top-10 pick, but also can’t reach for a risk.

He should have many options, which makes it the most confounding to figure out. That won’t stop me, naturally.

For the 35th consecutive year, I haven’t been invited to the Lions’ war room, and thus cannot confirm the presence of dart boards, Ouija boards and an impressive selection of craft beers.

Supposedly Quinn carries around a baseball bat to help him think, and also to bash anyone who jokes about drafting a long-snapper.

So we have two things to go on — Quinn’s history (different than the Lions’ history, to be fair), and whatever clues we can pluck from his words.

He generally has played it safe with his first-rounders, all solid choices who quickly became starters – Taylor Decker, Jarrad Davis, Frank Ragnow.

But when your team goes 6-10, it’s wimpy to be overly cautious, and imperative to show some urgency.

I’ve thoroughly analyzed what Quinn said about the draft, and by the end of this little exercise, I’ll give you the logical pick.

What follows are his actual quotes and my actual insightful analysis.

Quinn: “There’s a lot of defensive players in this draft that might not fit the exact model of the size, speed, for each position. But I think when you watch their film, they’re really good players, they might just be a little small for their respective positions.”

Analysis: He really, really likes Michigan’s 5-11 linebacker Devin Bush, and Florida State’s under-weight edge rusher Brian Burns. But he might be hesitant to take them because their ceilings could be high and their floors low. (It’s a draft term, just roll with it.) Mississippi State’s Montez Sweat also is intriguing, but has dropped on boards because of health concerns.

Quinn: “This year I think there’s a number of positions, I’d say especially on the defensive side of the board, that are good players that could come in and help immediately. But I don’t think you really need to take them super early.”

Analysis: Probably a smoke screen, because if Kentucky’s Josh Allen, LSU’s Devin White or Houston’s Ed Oliver drops to No. 8, Quinn will rupture ligaments leaping to grab one. His point is, he won’t trade up, and he’s imploring people not to cry if he doesn’t get any of them.

Quinn: “A tight end in the first round? Hahaha! Who’d ever consider that?”

Analysis: I made that quote up, as a nostalgic ode to first-rounders Eric Ebron and Brandon Pettigrew, selected at random by previous regimes under the influence of Oberon.

Quinn: “In all due respect to the fans out there, I can’t take the fan sentiment into who I draft and who I sign for this team. I wasn’t the person who drafted Eric, so I think it’s two different conversations.”

Analysis: Of course Quinn likes Iowa tight end T.J. Hockenson, and many of the 39,537 mock drafts on the Internet have the Lions selecting him. He would be a fine fit for an offense in need of playmakers. But Quinn secretly hopes he doesn’t have to take him and spend the rest of his life getting accosted by Lions fans at the grocery store.

Iowa tight end T.J. Hockenson would be a fine fit for a Lions offense in need of playmakers.

Quinn: “My phone lights up a lot (about trading down), trust me. I get a lot of text messages.”

Analysis: Quinn is not the only GM to publicly express interest in trading down for more picks, but I think he really means it. Without a bevy of touted quarterbacks – perhaps only Kyler Murray and Dwayne Haskins – not many teams are willing to trade up. Nevertheless, the ideal words out of Roger Goodell’s mouth at No. 8 would be, “We have a trade.” Or, “I have no idea why I bear-hug every draft pick when he steps on stage.”

Quinn: “There’s good depth in the offensive line in the draft, too. I think it’s a position we studied really hard, our coaches were out this year more than in previous years. We’ll kind of see how that goes, but there’s good depth at that position from the first round all the way down to the fifth and sixth round.”

Analysis: Quinn knows he needs a guard to replace T.J. Lang, but also knows he’s taken an offensive lineman in the first round twice in three years. He’d love to add Alabama’s Jonah Williams but is afraid Matt Patricia would rip his beard off if Quinn passed on a defensive player. So he’ll find a guard in the fifth or sixth round.

Quinn: “I’ve always said since the day I got here that the draft is a blend of need and best available (player). I think this year – just looking at our situation right now with what the board looks like and what our perceived needs are – probably a little bit more pushing toward the best available player. … It’s kind of uncharted territory for me (with a top-10 pick), to be honest.”

Analysis: Ah, the age-old question – do you take the biggest need, the best player available, or the best tight end available? Kidding! (I think.)

It could be a tight end, an offensive lineman, a defensive lineman, a defensive end or a linebacker. It almost certainly won’t be a receiver, running back, quarterback, safety or cornerback. Or long-snapper.

Unless a top defensive player drops, I think the Lions’ choice will come down to one of four players: Hockenson, Jonah Williams, Bush and Burns. One word used often by Quinn still rattles around in my head – playmaker. Quinn likes production and versatility, and also players from power programs. If he can’t trade down, he’ll have a shot at a major position of need – edge rusher.

So reading between the lines and through the haze, here’s the Lions’ guy: Florida State defensive end Brian Burns, a tremendous pass rusher (24 sacks in three seasons) with a withering spin move. At 6-5, he’s also agile enough to drop into coverage.

This was a tough riddle to crack, so many options, so many variables.

Quinn said he doesn’t enjoy having a top-10 pick and would prefer never to have another. He might not, as long as he gets this one right.

Twitter: @bobwojnowski