DETROIT — The Detroit Lions’ best and perhaps only chance to turn around their franchise is to finally figure out how to hit more than miss on NFL draft picks.
The Lions have tried and failed to find a general manager with the ability to project if prospects have what it takes on and off the field to make it in the league. For decades, decision makers have not made the most of opportunities to select college players capable of helping the long-suffering franchise become successful.
All of that has led to Detroit having only one playoff victory since winning the 1957 NFL title — and the lone postseason victory was nearly three decades ago.
Lions general manager Brad Holmes is about to have his first chance to make a difference.
Holmes has the No. 7 overall pick to address one of the many problems he inherited, leading a franchise that lost 33 games over the last three years.
“We do have a cluster of players we’re comfortable with picking,” Holmes said Friday. “But at the same time, we will be very prepared and willing to move in either direction. There have been discussions with other teams.”
The former Los Angeles Rams executive has already made a blockbuster trade, dealing quarterback Matthew Stafford to his former employer, and relatively significant signings in free agency. But his decisions over a three-day stretch coming up soon will be pivotal.
“We’ll be aggressive through all avenues of player acquisition,” said Holmes, who led the Rams’ college scouting department for eight years. “But you know let’s just be honest, I come from the college draft background and I look forward to building this team through the draft.”
The Lions acquired Jared Goff, two first-round draft picks and a third-round pick in exchange for Stafford, and they may want to give their new quarterback a pass-catching rookie early in the draft to ease the transition.
LSU receiver Ja’Marr Chase might be off the board by the time Detroit picks. A run on quarterbacks could give it a choice of Chase or Alabama receiver and Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith.
The Lions chose to let standout receiver Kenny Golladay, along with veterans Marvin Jones and Danny Amendola, leave in free agency, and didn’t spend a lot of resources in an attempt to replace them.
The relative strength of Detroit’s team appears to be the offensive line with tackle Taylor Decker and Pro Bowl center Frank Ragnow leading the unit. After a number of quarterbacks and perhaps some skill players are taken, offensive tackles Rashawn Slater of Northwestern or Penei Sewell from Oregon would be a sensible selection.
Holmes has insisted any position is in play for the No. 7 pick, including quarterback even though Goff is on the roster and the top prospects will be off the board.
Ohio State’s Justin Fields, North Dakota State’s Trey Lance or Alabama’s Mac Jones might be too intriguing for the Lions to pass up if they’re available, knowing the rookie would have a chance to watch and learn at first behind Goff.
At each position group, the Lions need an influx of talent on defense. Detroit gave up 519 points and 6,716 yards last season to break team records set by its winless team in 2008, and ranked among the worst in NFL history in both categories.
If Holmes is to bolster the defense early in the first round, he may be able to take Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain and likely would have an opportunity to draft Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons.
While COVID-19 has affected the way teams scouted prospects, Holmes started evaluating this year’s draft-eligible players well before the pandemic started, hoping to give Detroit a potential advantage this month.
“That was something that actually helped me coming into it, to have pretty much have seen a good majority, if not all, of the draft class coming up this year,” Holmes said.