The Lions went with a center in the first round of the 2018 NFL draft. We discuss what the move means for the roster and later in the draft. Justin Rogers, Detroit News
Allen Park — Bob Quinn decided to finish what he started.
That’s the best explanation for this, rather than the possibility — one the Lions’ quickly dismissed Thursday night, not surprisingly — that this really wasn’t the ending they were hoping for on Day 1 of the NFL Draft.
Never mind all that chatter you heard about them trying to trade out of the pick at No. 20. The Lions had “multiple offers” on the table when they were on the clock, Quinn said, and they still decided this was the right move. Or more than that, actually.
“At that point in time,” the Lions’ general manager said, “it was a real easy pick.”
Easy for him to say after the fact, obviously. But by grabbing Arkansas center Frank Ragnow on Thursday, Quinn effectively completed the overhaul of Detroit’s offensive line, a chore that began with his inaugural draft in 2016.
That’s when he selected left tackle Taylor Decker in the first round, then added center Graham Glasgow in the third. Last offseason, Quinn committed $76 million in free-agent salaries to veteran linemen Rick Wagner and T.J. Lang. And now there’s this move, dropping anchor in a familiar spot on a night where most draft analysts had the Lions pegged for a defensive player in the first round.
“I think it starts in the trenches, it starts up front,” Quinn explained. “We want to build through the middle of our team, through the offensive line and defensive line, and that’s kind of what we believe in.”
So whether you believe him or not when he says the Ragnow choice was an easy one — or even the correct one — it’s hard to argue with the blueprint. Not when the Lions have finished in the bottom five in the NFL in rushing the last four seasons, or when you’re coming off a year where an injury-riddled line allowed 47 sacks, which ranked third-worst in the NFC and was a career high for Matthew Stafford.
Sure, this felt like a bit of a reach, and maybe it was in the eyes of some scouts. But Quinn said there were some teams picking behind them in the first round who were ready to make the same pick, and one of them clearly was Cincinnati at No. 21. The other probably was New England at No. 23, given both the shared beliefs about roster building and the way the Lions’ pick started a mini-run on interior linemen. The Bengals opted for Ohio State center Billy Price with Ragnow off the board, and the Patriots took Georgia’s Isaiah Wynn — a guard who may start at tackle in New England — at No. 23.
There’s a lot to like about Ragnow, who fits the general description both Quinn and new head coach Matt Patricia offered in pre-draft discussions about the Lions’ targets. He’s a smart, tough player who didn’t allow a sack in 33 starts at Arkansas — at right guard as a sophomore, then at center the last two years — and a guy that jumped out to Quinn immediately when he started watching SEC games last fall.
Ragnow’s season was cut short by an ankle injury that required surgery, but the body of work was complete and consistent before that. Bret Bielema, the former Arkansas coach who has had handful of first-round picks on the offensive line, raves about Ragnow. He's not alone, and there was plenty of talk the last week or so about Ragnow rising into the first round.
Ragnow bolstered his draft profile with a strong showing at the NFL scouting combine, posting the best numbers in a strong class of centers in the bench press (27 reps), the vertical and broad jumps, and the 40-yard dash. He also has the necessary size (6-foot-5, 312 pounds) and arm length (33 1/8 inches), and the kind of intelligence you’re looking for in an offensive lineman, particularly a center. The Lions didn't bother bringing him in for an official visit after meeting with him at the combine in late February, mostly because he was a "clean" prospect.
“Everything we’re about,” Quinn said, “is kind of what he is.”
Passing on the pass rush
As for what he isn’t? He’s not a pass rusher, obviously. That's something the Lions still need, though Quinn and Patricia don't seem nearly as concerned about it as everyone else. But this was a weak draft for those, and it's worth noting that after Bradley Chubb went fifth overall to Denver, there was only one other edge rusher selected Thursday. The New Orleans Saints were so desperate to land Marcus Davenport, in fact, they traded a 2019 first-round pick to Green Bay to move up from No. 27 to No. 14 to snag him. Harold Landry, another sack artist linked to Detroit, reportedly fell out of first-round consideration due to medical red flags.
“We had some of those defensive guys rated pretty high, too,” Quinn said.
But when push came to shove, he felt Ragnow was the best at doing both, and “was the guy that can help us the most, the quickest.”
So at the end of the day, that’s where he started, with a guy who’ll be expected to play right away, much like last year’s first-round pick, Jarrad Davis. With a guy who'll be asked to do what he does best. Or at least what he says he loves best.
“One of my favorite things about playing football," Ragnow said, "is finishing.”
That's the idea, all right.