Niyo: Quinn’s first draft a 'big' success

John Niyo
The Detroit News

Allen Park — This was a big draft for Bob Quinn, and he was determined not to blow it.

Best way to guard against that? By remembering this is tackle football, for one thing. And by going big, before going home, which is exactly what Detroit’s rookie general manager did again Friday night, selecting two more linemen on Day 2 of the NFL draft. That made it 3-for-3 for Quinn – and nearly a half-ton of football players – in his first three picks, as the Lions’ new boss added Alabama defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson and Michigan center Graham Glasgow to Thursday’s first-round choice of Ohio State offensive tackle Taylor Decker.

At 6-foot-6 and 300 pounds, Glasgow’s the smallest of the trio, and as he stood at the podium in Allen Park late Friday night, asked to address the big picture, Quinn admitted that’s really no small oversight.

“That’s where I believe you win football games,” he said. “You win football games in the trenches. And you’ve gotta have big, strong, tough, durable, versatile guys in there.”

In Robinson, the Lions’ new GM adds another guy who fills more than just a need on the roster. He fills out a jersey — 6-4 and 311 pounds at his pro day, though Quinn called him a “320-pounder” Friday night — and certainly won’t look like a rookie, even if he happens to play like one occasionally this fall.

Back in December, as Alabama prepared to face Michigan State in the national playoff semifinal at the Cotton Bowl, a reporter asked Robinson — with his full beard and shaved head — how old most people think he is.

"About 35,” he answered. “They think I'm a coach."

Got ID?

Truth is, he just turned 21 last month — a mountain of untapped potential — and he’s a bit of a mama’s boy. But that’s understandable, seeing as how Robinson needed his mother, Abigail, just to play football as a youth.

The native of Fort Worth, Texas, started playing at the age of 4 — against kids twice his age — but by the time he was 8, “she couldn’t miss one, single game because she had to bring my birth certificate every, single time,” Robinson said. She needed it to verify her “man-child” was eligible to play.

Alabama’s Robinson a huge addition to Lions’ DL

He’s eligible to play immediately in Detroit, and particularly as an early-down run-stopper in the Lions’ front-four rotation, utilizing his explosive power and violent hands. At the NFL scouting combine in February, Robinson — a player Quinn described as “really mature” and “wise beyond his years — talked about both those traits being encouraged by his defensive line coach, Bo Davis.

“He tells us to try to choke someone,” Robinson said. “Anybody that ever just made you mad, just try to choke 'em. Choke 'em to death. So I start squeezing, grabbing pads. Just start squeezing, shaking — shaking the fillings out of ’em. So that’s what we try to do every time we get our hands inside and grab 'em.”

Hearing that — and watching it on film, in addition to several face-to-face visits during the scouting process — is it any wonder the Lions liked him enough to grab him in the middle of Round 2? Or that the feeling seemed mutual, especially after Robinson sat down with the Lions’ fiery defensive line coach, Kris Kocurek?

“I had a visit with them in April,” Robinson said, “and it was honestly my best visit out of all the teams, my 30 visits. I took 30 visits.”

Looking ahead

The draft is always about the future, despite what we all say in the moment. And so was this pick for the Lions, who brought back last year’s projected starters at defensive tackle — Haloti Ngata and Tyrunn Walker — on short-term deals this winter. Only Ngata, Caraun Reid and last year’s fourth-round pick, Gabe Wright, who barely saw the field as a rookie, are signed beyond 2016.

But even beyond that, it’s surely a statement about Quinn’s philosophy. His first two draft picks were both recent national champions. One was an accomplished run-blocker — the 6-7, 315-pound Decker should be an immediate starter at right tackle — while the other is a noted run-stopper.

Lions cap big day with UM's Glasgow in third round

“I like those first two picks,” analyst Mike Mayock said on the NFL Network broadcast. “They’re gonna set a tone in Detroit.”

The last time the Lions used their first two picks on linemen was 2001 — Matt Millen’s first draft — when they selected Jeff Backus and Dominic Raiola, two players who went on to start a combined 394 games for Detroit. Millen’s third pick that year was defensive tackle Shaun Rogers, who became a three-time Pro Bowler.

Beyond that, you have to go back to 1992, when they drafted defensive ends Robert Porcher and Tracy Scroggins, to find a draft in which the Lions doubled down on the trenches like this.

And while Martin Mayhew didn’t exactly ignore the line of scrimmage in his seven years at the helm, give Quinn credit for recognizing the size of the task he’s facing here. And the need to start rebuilding this franchise’s foundation from the ground game up. Mayhew’s first two first-round linemen — Ndamukong Suh (2010) and Nick Fairley (’11) — already are playing elsewhere, and the next one, Riley Reiff (’12), may be gone a year from now. Meanwhile, after last year’s shaky debut as a first-time starter at center, Travis Swanson, has genuine competition in Glasgow, who played his way into the top half of this draft with impressive showings at All-Star games this winter.

“When I came in here, I think everyone knew that it’s kind of a clean slate, and everybody has to earn their job, no matter what position it is,” said Quinn, who was doing his best Lt. Daniel Kaffee impersonation in the Lions’ war room Thursday, swinging a baseball bat to keep his “fidgety hands” occupied as the Lions looked for a Few Good Men.

After drafting Decker on Thursday, Quinn admitted he won’t always be risk-averse.

“But I think the first couple years, I’d rather be safe than sorry,” he added.

No need to apologize for that, really.

For Mayhew, it was a far different reconstruction project when he took over as a full-time GM in 2009, inheriting a roster nearly devoid of young, playmaking talent.

But the only time in Mayhew’s tenure he didn’t use at least one of his first two draft choices on an offensive skill-position player was 2013, when the Lions took Ezekiel Ansah with the No. 5 overall pick and then grabbed Darius Slay early in the second round. Coincidentally or not, that draft looks like it may be his best in hindsight.

There’s no telling how we’ll view this one a few years from now. But for starters, Quinn has made a sizeable investment here. And one that seems sound enough that when asked where he’d focus his attention this weekend, Quinn could comfortably joke, “Maybe take some skill guys?”