Quinn puts Lions' player evaluation plan in motion
Allen Park – The first week of training camp is unquestionably an important part of the evaluation process as coaches get their first look at players competing in full pads. But behind the scenes, there’s a far more significant process going on that will ultimately play a critical role in shaping the Detroit Lions’ roster for the next several years.
Every year, for the early portion of camp, the team’s entire scouting staff is in from around the country. But this year carries extra weight because rookie general manager Bob Quinn is installing changes to the way the team will evaluate college talent going forward.
“This is really our first set of meetings where we can go through how we’re going to evaluate college players,” Quinn said. “When I first got here, we threw a lot at (the scouts) and asked them to just figure it out. We didn’t have a lot of time to sit down and go through the specifics, the nuances, the attention to detail that I needed to get accomplished.”
When Quinn was hired in January, preparation for the upcoming NFL draft was largely completed. Sure, you could always take another look at the film, and there’s the combine and pro days, where prospects are physically fine-tuned for drills and mentally prepped for whatever questions they may face in interviews. But the real work, the boots on the ground at college campuses across the country, and the reports generated from those visits, had long been finished.
Quinn held an initial meeting with his scouting staff at the Senior Bowl in late January. He offered up a bullet-point presentation on his immediate expectations, but has since cultivated a much more detailed plan for 2016 and beyond with the help of the team’s director of player personnel, and right-hand man, Kyle O’Brien.
“Some of that stuff is adjusting your grading scale, adjusting your scouting manual; those things take time,” Quinn said. “You can’t just take a day and say I’m going to rewrite the scouting manual, rewrite the grading scale and email it to the scouts.”
And remember when former general manager Martin Mayhew brought in Brian Xanders to help integrate databases to help streamline the scouting process? That still has a role in Quinn’s front office. But with different criteria and a new grading scale, those databases had to be torn down and built back up from scratch.
Xanders, after exploring a handful of opportunities with other organizations the past couple offseasons, remains with the Lions and his technical expertise has been an asset to Quinn.
“He’s a really good liaison between myself and Kyle and the IT department,” Quinn said. “He does a really good job communicating what I want in computer terminology I’m not really that schooled in. He’s been a useful guy to have around.”
Quinn offered few details on the scouting process overhaul, but admitted it’s heavily influenced by what he learned during his 16 years with New England. O’Brien also had input, including concepts he picked up during his stints in Kansas City and Jacksonville, where the Jaguars have put together some impressive draft classes in recent years.
“We spent an inordinate amount of hours setting that up and working with our support staff here to get those things implemented,” Quinn said. “So we unveiled the new report writing, new scouting manual, the new grading scale to our scouts this week. We’ve been meeting with our scouts every day, all of them, going through every detail because I want them to hear it from me.”
While Quinn made many sweeping changes at the top of the organization following his hire, he largely kept the team’s college scouting staff intact, including retaining the department’s director, Lance Newmark. Two of the team’s regional scouts were terminated following the draft and a few names were added to the staff, including Jay Muraco and Ron Miles; both had spent time with Patriots.
Many of those scouts will be on the road this weekend as college teams around the country begin practicing for the 2016 season. And one focus Quinn wanted to impress upon the group, above many things, is the importance of maintaining a thorough understanding of the Lions’ roster at all times.
“Part of the reports I’m going to have these guys write is comparing the player to a Lion,” Quinn said. “I want the scouts to be able to paint a picture in the report-writing structure, where I can read that part of it and say, ‘I got it. This guy is similar to this guy we had in camp.’
“It’s really their job, and I told them this week, they have to watch our games. Every week, you have to take an hour or two, however long it takes, because you have to know our roster. That’s the most important evaluation of every person, myself included, in this organization makes is of our own roster. I said that in the beginning. If you can’t figure out your own roster, good luck figuring out free agents and the college draft.”
Quinn is also aiming to import one of Bill Belichick’s primary scouting philosophies – focusing on what a player can do, not what he can’t do.
“It’s really easy to watch four or five games on a guy and say he can’t do this,” Quinn said. “Great, that’s easy. What can he do, so when we get him here, we can put him in the right spots within the scheme to succeed? It’s simple. It’s common sense, but it’s a new way of thinking for people in this organization.
“I’ll never say they were doing it the wrong way, but this is a new, different way we’re going to start looking at players, putting the draft board together, looking at free agents and doing the preseason scouting.”
Building through the draft is the key to sustained success in the NFL. And while there isn’t a set formula to compare and contrast how teams have done in this area, it’s clear the Lions haven’t done consistently done well enough.
There isn’t a player still on the roster from the 2010 or 2011 classes, and only Riley Reiff and Tahir Whitehead remain from the eight selections in 2012. The 2013 group, led by Ezekiel Ansah, Darius Slay and Theo Riddick, has unquestionably been successful, but the team has yielded little return from its 2014 and 2015 classes to this point.