Allen Park — After a free-agency period filled with mostly modest and short-term signings, the NFL Draft will truly be the first opportunity for coach Matt Patricia to put his stamp on the Detroit Lions’ roster.
Obviously, each selection will ultimately be credited to general manager Bob Quinn, but as he’s stated multiple times, each roster decision will be a joint decision between Patricia and him.
“Matt and I are going to be tied at the hip when it comes to player acquisition,” Quinn said at the coach’s introductory press conference in February. “Those decisions are never going to be one-sided.”
And while there’s no obvious correlation between an impactful first draft class and a coach’s long-term success with a franchise, the Lions’ ability to find on-field contributors who exemplify the characteristics Patricia wants in his players would be a good way to start a tenure.
“In general, for us out of the draft, we’re trying to find guys that we think can help us build the program,” Patricia said this week. “And obviously, if it’s earlier in the draft, we probably are hoping those guys can contribute a lot quicker.”
Unlike many first-year head coaches, Patricia joins an organization with many building blocks already in place, including a franchise quarterback, standout left tackle and shutdown cornerback. There’s little reason the team shouldn’t be able to compete for a playoff spot in 2018.
But the same was true of predecessor Jim Caldwell, who did lead the Lions to the postseason in his first year as the coach. But what Caldwell lacked was quality contributions from his early-round picks his first season.
In 2014, the Lions selected tight end Eric Ebron in the first round, before trading up to get linebacker Kyle Van Noy near the top of the second. And like Caldwell, neither remains with the franchise.
Ebron was jettisoned this offseason when his contract cost outpaced his value. Van Noy didn’t even make it through three seasons with the team before he was traded away to the Patriots for pennies on the dollar.
Neither of those players ended up being the “program builders” the Lions had hoped. Ebron was supposed to be a game-changer in the mold of Jimmy Graham, but at his best was a fringe top-10 guy at his position. Van Noy was a square peg in a round hole, asked to play a completely different style than the one he had thrived doing while at BYU.
Additionally, neither shaped the locker room’s culture, an intangible Patricia says will be a factor with Detroit’s first few selections.
“I think that’s always something that you want to consider, especially early on in the draft,” Patricia said. “You’re really trying to make sure that’s a guy that’s probably going to be put out there fairly quickly, or in the spotlight pretty quickly, and you want to make sure those things are in place.”
As Patricia navigates his first draft in charge, he’ll be able to lean on Quinn, who has a two-year head start in Detroit. And while it’s too early to fully evaluate his past drafting performances, there’s been some promising early returns with his early-round picks — namely Taylor Decker, A’Shawn Robinson, Graham Glasgow, Jarrad Davis and Kenny Golladay.
“You want dependable players in this program,” Quinn said last week. “Obviously, if you’re taking them in the first round, they should be good players, right? Or I shouldn’t be standing up here. I think dependability is something that’s really key with durability, ability to learn, competitive nature, does he love football, passion, all the things that we talk about on a daily basis when we talk about players and the guys we want to add to this organization.”
This weekend, the Lions will have six (or maybe more if they make some trades) shots to add dependable players and shape the team to Patricia’s vision. It won’t guarantee anything, but a quality draft can help lay the foundation for future success.