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Lions GM Quinn moving toward best-player approach

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Allen Park — The draft used to be sarcastically known as the Detroit Lions’ Super Bowl, but general manager Bob Quinn is counting on continued success at the event to put the franchise on the path to making its long-overdue debut on the NFL’s biggest stage.

So far, so good for Quinn. In his first season at the helm, despite only a few short months of prep time, he scored well with the team’s 10 draft picks, all of whom are still on the roster.

First-round pick Taylor Decker almost immediately emerged as the long-term solution at left tackle, while defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson and offensive lineman Graham Glasgow proved to be capable starters by the end of their rookie campaigns. And safety Miles Killebrew, linebacker Antwione Williams, defensive end Anthony Zettel and running back Dwayne Washington were among the contributors who are expected to have a bigger role going forward.

Last year’s rookie class played a role in the team’s playoff berth last season and is the beginning of a new foundation in Detroit.

On Thursday, Quinn will look to build upon his inaugural effort and he still has plenty of holes to fill.

The list of needs is long. On offense, the team could use a wide receiver, tight end and running back. On defense, improvements to the front seven are imperative, while there’s opportunity to immediately upgrade and address long-term concerns in the secondary.

Not placing an emphasis on a particular position allows Quinn to take the best player available.

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“Last year when we took Taylor Decker in the first round,” Quinn said, “that was a position we targeted from the moment I probably stepped in the building last January as something where I think we needed to upgrade. But after being here for a year, and going through the season. I think it’s prudent to take the best player available because if you pass over a great player, no matter what the position, I think you’re always going to look back and probably regret that.”

Once the draft begins Thursday night, it will be a long wait to Detroit’s pick at No. 21. That’s assuming the team stands pat. After not making any trades during his first draft, Quinn acknowledged he’s already been fielding calls about potential moves up and down the board and that the organization will consider all options.

“We have eight picks right now, two in the sixth round, one in each other rounds. You know we’re open for business,” Quinnsaid. “The phone’s been ringing a little bit. I’m sure that’ll heat up here in the next four or five days.”

All things considered, the Lions don’t expect to land what Quinn calls a “rare” talent in the opening round. He said a draft typically has 10 or fewer of those players and this class is no different. But if one slides within range, that’s where consideration is given to moving up.

“You’ve got to have a very, very strong conviction on that player that you’re going to give up something to get that guy,” Quinn said. “It’s something that’s a balancing act, and you try to do as much research before the draft, so you have all of the information kind of in front of you come draft weekend.”

There could also be opportunities to move back the opening night, especially with Houston (No. 25) and Seattle (No. 26) having obvious needs.

The good news for the Lions is that the depth in the draft appears to line up well with many of the team’s needs, thanks in part to Quinn’s proactive approach to free agency. By signing offensive tackle Rick Wagner and guard T.J. Lang, the general manager filled two glaring holes at spots the draft lacked high-quality options.

That allows the Lions to take advantage of the class’ strengths.

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“This draft, I think, has a number of playmakers,” Quinn said. “I think running back has a number of players that are going to be able to contribute early in their careers, wide receivers, both positions in the secondary, tight end. I think those are the ones that jump out.”

Of course, Quinn didn’t mention the front seven — defensive line and linebackers — where many analysts expect them to spend their first-round choice.

And no draft talk is complete without debating how to handle risk. In the first round alone, there are multiple players with off-field issues and another half-dozen with injury concerns. The Lions have left no stone unturned when evaluating these players, from Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster to Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon.

“You can’t clump all character or all physical risks the same,” Quinn said. “You’ve got to take each individual player and prospect and do your due diligence in terms of how you think that player is going to fit on the field and you’ve got to kind of really evaluate how the fit’s going to be off the field.

“It’s a really hard situation. The off-the-field things that a number of prospects have every year, you have to evaluate it and make the best decision you think for your football team. It’s something we spend a lot of time on.”

There’s no way to predict how the event will unfold, but Quinn and his staff have put in countless hours preparing to find the right fits.

“I don’t believe in luck,” Quinn said. “I believe in hard work. I think we’ve done our hard work here.”

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/justin_rogers

NFL draft

When: 8 Thursday, 7 p.m. Friday, noon Saturday

Where: Philadelphia

TV: ESPN, NFL Network

Lions: They have the 21st pick in each of the first six rounds. They also have the 32nd pick in Rounds 6 and 7.