Niyo: No need for Lions to play it safe with 8th pick

John Niyo
The Detroit News
What Lions GM Bob Quinn does with the No. 8 pick is still anyone's guess at this point.

Allen Park — The question posed to Bob Quinn, the Lions’ general manager, was an open-ended one.

And not surprisingly, his answer followed suit.

But with the NFL Draft only a week away, that’s sort of the point as the Lions consider their options. They’ve got a rare opportunity here, and Quinn knows he needs to be open-minded about how best to use it.

The Lions are holding the eighth overall pick in this year’s draft, and as Quinn admitted Thursday, “It’s kind of uncharted territory for me, to be honest.” In 20 years as an NFL scout or personnel executive, Quinn can count on two fingers the number of times his team has owned a top-10 pick in the draft.

In New England, the Patriots almost never lost enough to earn that type of reward, such that it is. And when it was suggested to Quinn on Thursday at his annual pre-draft press conference that this wasn’t something he planned on doing next year, he interjected with his own ultimatum of sorts.

Next year? Try again.

“Ever,” he deadpanned.

Fair enough. And he won’t get any argument from his head coach, obviously. Before last year’s 6-10 finish in Detroit, Matt Patricia hadn’t endured a losing season since he was a grad assistant at Syracuse in 2002.

But if last year truly is going to be the exception here — and Lions fans understandably will have their doubts about that — then Quinn should view this draft pick a bit differently than all the rest.

Leaning the other way

The Lions have leaned heavily toward their roster needs with their first-round pick in each of Quinn’s first three drafts as GM. Taylor Decker, Jarrad Davis and Frank Ragnow all were solid choices. Safe ones, too, as all three players were high-floor, low-risk prospects who filled immediate holes as Day 1 starters. Yet there's a reason why none were selected in the top half of the first round, which is where the Lions find themselves now.

“I don’t really love it, but it is what it is,” Quinn said. “We’re going to go out and get the best possible player for the Lions to help us win, whatever position it is.”

Check that: There’s still a few qualifiers that apply.

“It’s funny: My cousin texted me from Massachusetts and said, ‘Hey, I want you to take a long snapper again,’” Quinn said, laughing at his own expense about that 2016 draft decision he made. “I said, ‘Well, probably not.’”

No, definitely not. Probably not in the sixth round, either. (No offense to Jimmy Landes.)

But all kidding aside, after three years of building this roster — and now two free-agent classes with Patricia on board as his like-minded head coach — Quinn doesn’t need to play it safe, per se. Armed with his baseball bat in the Lions’ war room next Thursday, he should be looking for an extra-base hit with that first-round pick. Maybe even swinging for the fences.

“I’ve always said since the day I got here that the draft is a blend of need and best available (player),” Quinn said. “But I think this year — just looking at our situation right now with what the board looks like and what our perceived needs are — probably a little bit more pushing toward the best available player. I think that’s a good thing.”

Time will tell, of course. Back in 2001, following Bill Belichick’s first season in New England — a 5-11 finish — the Patriots used the sixth overall pick to select Richard Seymour, a defensive tackle who’d go on to earn All-Pro honors five times. In 2008, the Patriots owned the No. 7 overall pick — courtesy of an ’07 swap with San Francisco — and they traded down to 10th where they drafted linebacker Jerod Mayo, who was named NFL defensive rookie of the year.

Enticing options

There are a few can’t-miss prospects in this draft that Quinn would love to land. But a week out, Quinn readily admits, “I just don’t think I have enough ammunition to get up there.” So forget about Nick Bosa or Josh Allen for now.

Trading down remains a possibility for Quinn — maybe even a desire — but teams like Tampa Bay and Buffalo and the New York Jets probably are in better spots for teams trying to trade up for one of the top quarterback prospects. And as NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah notes, “there's 15 to 16 players that everybody in the league kind of agrees are the top guys.” After that, opinions vary. So chances are, the Lions will stay put.

Where they go with that pick is anyone’s guess at this point.

If Quinn sticks to his recent track record, I’d point to players like Alabama’s Jonah Williams, an offensive tackle whose future may line up at guard, where the Lions have an obvious need, or perhaps Iowa tight end T.J. Hockenson, whose well-rounded game certainly is intriguing. Neither boasts elite athleticism that sets them apart at their respective positions, but both look like sure things.

A bolder move, though, might be to grab a player like Houston’s Ed Oliver if he’s still on the board at No. 8. As an undersized defensive tackle, he draws some unfair comparisons to Aaron Donald — Oliver’s not that type of pass rusher — but he does possess some freakish physical traits and the kind of position versatility Patricia craves on defense.

Same goes for Mississippi State’s Montez Sweat, an edge rusher who was productive in the SEC, wowed scouts at the Senior Bowl and posted some jaw-dropping numbers at the NFL scouting combine, from a 4.41 40 time at 260 pounds to those 35 3/4-inch arms. A reported heart condition may give some teams pause, but he’s the type of prospect that you don’t generally find unless you’re picking in the top 10.

Michigan’s Rashan Gary, whose production didn’t match his potential in college, and Florida State’s Brian Burns, whose size might be a stumbling block, are two more that could fit that description. Or maybe it’s a run-and-chase linebacker like Michigan’s Devin Bush or LSU’s Devin White, either of whom would add some speed and playmaking ability to the Lions’ defense.

Whatever Quinn decides, though, keep this in mind: If this is a decision the Lions don’t want to have to make again, they'd better make the most of it.

Twitter: @JohnNiyo