Opening statement: "We finished up our draft prep on Friday. Very good process, I can't say enough about the great job Scott McEwen did setting our draft board. Our coaches got very involved and really bought in to what we're doing here. They did a lot of work. Obviously, our area scouts have been working on this draft since going back to last summer, so it was good preparation. I think the teams that draft well, you know, it's not really about what you do on Thursday, Friday, Saturday. It's about what you do leading up to it, and our preparation to this point has been outstanding. I should also mention Brian Xanders and Lance Newmark. (They) have done a great job with our eighth round working on that, so we're in a good spot right now. We feel good about things. Preparation's been very good and we're ready to go.
Before I get started I want to address a couple things. First, our needs, because you guys always ask that question and somebody will waste a question on that. They could've asked a different question because I say the same thing every time, but it's the same as always. We need good football players. We need guys that can help us win football games. It doesn't matter what position those guys play. If you're talking about secondary-wise and we drafted a player in the secondary, I think everybody would agree that would be a good decision right there. We take a linebacker, an outside backer, I think that makes sense. Defensive line, we could improve our depth there. The offensive line, we could improve our depth there. Tight end makes sense. Another quarterback to compete for backup quarterback would be a good spot. Running back depth is always important, and obviously receivers. So, we need all those things. We could also use a kicker, I think another one. But besides a punter and long-snapper, we're open to taking just about any position. It's not really going to be an issue for us as far as the draft.
Secondly, Ndamukong Suh, so nobody wastes a question on Ndamukong Suh. I'm going to address that now. We're not looking to trade him. We have no plans to trade him. I haven't had any conversations with anybody about trading him, except in January I did get a call from a team that had an interest. (They) offered me a box of old tube socks, and I said no thank you. Other than that, there have been no conversations, there's been no gauging the interest level, there's been none of that that's happened or has been authorized by me, so I don't know where that came from. That's not on the table. There are a lot of scenarios you can create where that might make sense to try to do something with him. You can think through all that stuff. The bottom line is winning football games, right? We're here to win football games. That's a guy that helps us do that, so I plan on Ndamukong being with us."
On having a top 10 list of players on his board: "It's not that simple. We'll come up with our top 10, so we've got our draft board set as of right now. We've got it lined up pretty good, but we're going to take some quarterbacks out of that mix. Some other guys might not fit for other reasons, health reasons or otherwise. Those guys will come out of that mix too, and then we'll have our top 10. Then it will get pretty simple."
On picking from those 10 heading into the draft: "Right. I mean, if we're picking fifth, we'd have five names. We had five names last year. We have 10 names this year, and it will be pretty simple."
On DT Ndamukong Suh's contract talks: "We're in negotiations. I don't think it really benefits to try to gauge where you are, are you close, are you far and all that. I've done this for a while now and you can say you're close, but you're not close until everybody signs it. You can say you're not going to get it done. You're not going to get it done until the time passes for you to get it done. We're in ongoing negotiations. We don't do that through the media. It's a dialogue between Tom Lewand and his (Suh's) agent, Jimmy Sexton, and we're moving forward with that."
On Suh's absence from the team's voluntary workouts: "I don't like to take the company line, but the reality is this is voluntary. The league office has been very clear about the fact that no general manager, front office executive or coaches can imply that it's not voluntary. I'm not going to imply that it is or isn't voluntary. I can tell you this, the routine that he's on right now, he'll be here hopefully sometime in mid-May, is a routine that he's been on for the last three seasons. He's performed pretty well the last three seasons, so it doesn't shock me that he's not here, and I'll leave it at that."
On his conversations with other general managers about trading up or down in the draft: "I started that process, really, today. We full-fledged started that process. I've had dialogue with teams ahead of us and behind us, and we always do that. We always explore moving both ways and we try to find the best value that way, whether it's going up or going back. We're open to staying at 10, open to moving up, open to moving back right now. So, we evaluate all of those opportunities."
On not giving up too much by trading up and not missing out on players by trading down: "Wherever we are, if we're picking 22nd, we have a point we would go up to. If we're picking second, we have a point we would go back to. We would say, if we get past this point, we're not getting the quality of player that we really want to get. So, we always have that range. We have that range now."
On if there is more depth in middle rounds of this year's draft: "There is a lot of depth in this draft, not just in that area, but going back in round two, round three. There are going to be some really good football players there to be taken, so we're excited about this process. It's going to make our football team a lot better. I mean, we're always excited about the draft, but this is going to make our football team a lot better, I think."
On what he looks for in receivers in the draft: "Obviously, good hands. I think that's really important. It kind of goes without saying, but you'd be amazed that, you know, you watch tape, combine tape of guys and they can't catch. That's kind of a problem if you're going to be a receiver, so I think that's pretty important. Obviously, a guy, it depends on what you're going to use him for, but guys with speed excite us. A guy that can make a five-yard play into a 90-yard play is something that you want to have those kind of guys on your football team. But those things are probably two of the most important qualities right now. Some guys are slot guys, some guys do different things, but that's what I'm looking for."
On his experiences visiting and meeting with players at different pro days: "It's great to get on their campuses, first of all, and talk to them, but also talk to coaches face-to-face and ask coaches about these players and other players who are involved with them, other contacts that you might have at different schools. I mean, that's a really important part of the process. As far as the meals, sometimes it's better to be having a meal with a player than sit in an airport for three hours waiting on your flight. So, we do that sometimes, sometimes we don't do it."
On how many quarterbacks he thinks will be taken in the top nine draft spots: "That'd be very helpful for us. I'd like to see six or seven quarterbacks go in the top 10. One thing I learned a long time ago is that nobody knows. People act like they know and they write what they know is going to happen and something weird happens every draft, something different happens. Every different move is a chain reaction going down, so I don't know what's going to happen. I'm excited to find out. Like I said before, it's about preparation, so we will be prepared for every scenario. If no quarterbacks go, we'll have 10 names. If four quarterbacks go, we'll know who our guy is at 10. I think that's the most important part of the process."
On the perception that the Lions are ‘enamored' with Clemson WR Sammy Watkins: "All the players that are really, really good, I'm enamored with all of those guys. The ones that aren't so good, I'm not that enamored. Sammy's a very talented guy. He would fit us. He can make plays. His track record speaks for itself, I think, so we like him as a football player. We did our due diligence on him, as we've done on (Jadeveon) Clowney and other guys."
On what he is referring to when he says 10 players on the draft board: "Our 10, we'll have our 10 no matter what happens, no matter what scenario. We'll have our 10, and we'll know who our guy is no matter how many quarterbacks come off. We have a 10 with no quarterbacks in it."
On how he would characterize this draft: "I think our philosophy and my philosophy are pretty constant, pretty consistent. We'll take the best player available for us, and that's what we've done here in the past and we'll continue to follow that formula. We're not going to reach for need. When I say reach for need, I mean, if you've got three or four guys that are similarly graded that you can take, that will come and play for you and contribute something, I don't think you reach down nine spots to take somebody because they play a particular position. That's what I'm saying. It's not necessarily their numerical grade is one tick above the next numerical grade, so you take that guy even though he's not going to be able to be on the field for you. So, we have a pretty consistent philosophy and we're going to stick with it."
On weighing the value of taking a quarterback that resembles the play of QB Matthew Stafford: "I think that would be a good question for coaches and how they play on using those guys. We'll discuss that at the appropriate time. I'm always looking for the best quality player. I like guys that can throw the ball. That's the way I grew up in the NFL and in college football, so guys that can sling it are guys that appeal to me. I like the athletic guys. Teams are doing some interesting things with the athletic guys. If you can find an athletic guy that can sling it too, I would really like that guy. But the coaching staff would know how we're going to utilize guys, and we're on the board during the draft before we're on the clock, we talk about our options and how we would use these guys. If this guy is here, what's your plan for him? That's the question I'll ask the coordinator, ask the head coach. We have time to formulate some of those thoughts. We know where we've graded them talent-wise, but there may be a guy with a tick higher grade, but we don't have a solid plan for him, you know? You take the guy below that, I think."
On his draft conversations so far with the new coaching staff: "That's what the draft process is for us and that's the grading process. Our coaches are involved every step of the way. We're in the draft room and we've got a number of grades on guys. I may have one, Scotty (McEwen) may have one, the offensive coordinator has one, the receiver coach has one. Scott will put a grade on that player based off the room, so we'll put a group grade on him and we'll get a feel for what the coaches plan on doing with him. That's the way we go about it. Ultimately, it's my decision who we take, so you won't hear, ‘Coach wanted this guy.' It doesn't matter because I have to decide who it is and my name gets attached to that guy, which I found that out. No matter who that guy is, that's the guy I drafted. It's not a guy somebody else drafted, so we'll make sure we draft the right players and guys that I like."
On how the draft process has changed over the years: "It's changed a lot. I mean, we've changed a lot from the way we did things in the past. I would start with the database that we put in place last year has been very helpful in terms of consolidating information and having information in one place. We really were back in the dark ages technology-wise. We've changed some areas and some responsibilities. We've gotten some other people involved in the process. Sheldon White's very involved in the process, Shack Harris has been very involved. We've changed some roles. We changed some of our grading in how we graded the medical grades, for example. We changed that process around. We have a new doctor. Michael Workings joined us a couple years ago as part of that plan, so there have been a lot of changes. That's really what the goal is. I think the goal is to continually improve the process every year and make it a little bit better. That's what we've been trying to do every single year, so there have been a lot of changes over the years."
On if the additional two weeks leading up to the drafted affected him: "I think this year's kind of unique from my standpoint because we didn't have a head coach for a period of time there, so I was focused on finding a head coach. When I would have been spending time evaluating juniors, I was out looking for a head coach. It has kind of benefitted me some this year in terms of having more time to evaluate players, but I think the timing of it is what it is. Whatever time they want to do it, if they say draft players, I'm going to be there to draft players. I don't know that it really makes much difference, whether it's two weeks to go or whether it's now. Obviously, there's a lot more analysis, a lot more articles are written, a lot more time to kill, but I think the important thing is being ready. We're always going to be ready."
On how much time he spends researching what other teams will do in the draft: "I think you've got to do that. I think you spend some time on that and you talk to people around the league and other GMs who you have a good relationship with and try to decipher that. But I think the most important thing is you prepare for every scenario. You're ready for whatever might happen, because like I said before, you don't know what's going to happen."
On how many general managers are out there that he can trust: "None. You can listen to what they say, though. It's a very competitive business. We're all trying to win, so I understand that. But no, there's not a whole lot."
On how much value he puts into a player's special teams abilities: "That's something that we really emphasized more this year, speaking of the changes that you asked in the question before. When we were doing some of the later round free agent guys, I had the area scouts flag guys they thought were going to be really good special teams players. In the past, we've kind of relied on measurables, a guy's height, weight, speed, you know, if he was a physical player, if he could operate in space. Some guys didn't play a lot of special teams, but you say, ‘This guy could probably play special teams.' We found out a lot of times, Bono (John Bonamego) didn't want some of those guys. We're saying this guy can play teams and maybe Bono wanted a guy who actually played teams or Danny Crossman or whoever our teams coach was at the time. So, we actually spent more time delving into some of those later round guys who play on special teams, who play four phases and trying to locate some of those guys later in the draft or in free agency in this year."
On first-round draft prospects with kickoff and punt return abilities: "It factors in. It factors in more when you don't have a competent returner, which we do. But it's certainly something you take into consideration if somebody can be a backup punt returner, if he has more versatility. You can only dress 46 players, so you want to have guys that can play multiple spots. It factors in."
On if this draft lends itself to more aggressive trading given the depth: "No, I don't think you get any more or less aggressive. I think if there's a guy that you really want ahead of you, you can get him. He's in that range that we talked about. If you can go up and get him, you go up and get him, but you know that there are some guys that you have graded well behind you. But how good are those guys when you actually get them, you know? How you view them now, you may view them totally differently three or four months into having them. Some of these guys that we had rated really high last year that went to other teams did not perform as well, so it's a process of trying to decipher how good these guys are going to be. I don't think your aggressiveness level changes based on the depth of the draft."
On if he prefers quantity over quality when selecting players: "It depends how much those blue chips cost, you know? If they cost too much, I'd rather have a couple red chips, so it's about getting value, I think. Whether you move up and get value or move back and get value, so that's the way I look at it."
On how he evaluates previous drafts: "We go in to every draft, and we talk about this in the personnel meetings, we want to find three starters in every draft. We want to find three guys that contribute in every draft and three developmental guys. That's our goal going in to every draft. It's been that way since 2009 when I first got here. That's what we seek to achieve. It's an aspirational goal. You don't always hit on it. Sometimes you hit a little bit better, so it just varies."
On if evaluating talent at cornerback is more of a challenge compared to other positions: "I think those guys that you're talking about in (Bill) Bentley, in (Chris) Greenwood, Jonte Green, (Darius) Slay, I think the important thing is, are they on the right trajectory? You know, are they showing progress every single year? Are they improving? Some guys walk in from day one and they've got it, you know, and they just step on the field and they've got it. Some guys take a year, some guys take two years. It doesn't take more than three years, you know what I mean? It doesn't. If you don't have it in three years, you don't have it, so this is a big year for those guys. It's a big year to see where they are. I like what I've seen thus far. We haven't seen a whole lot, but those guys should develop and should be good players for us."
On comparing the uncertainty of this year's top 10 to previous years: "As I said before, I think it's always uncertain. I think you never know what's going to happen. You can try to figure it out, but you just don't know. People are looking for different things in these players. Some guys, if you're running 3-4 and you're two-gapping every time, you like a lineman that we don't like. If you're playing a lot of zone, you're tackling, your corners are playing Cover 2, you like a corner that we might not like, you know? Then, as you know, nobody tells you what they're looking for or what they're going to do, so every year it's uncertain. I don't think it's any more or less uncertain this year."
On looking for players that can make an immediate impact this season: "I'm not so sure I agree with your first premise that there's a need to win more this year than any other year. There's a need to win all the time, so that doesn't at all affect who we're going to try to draft. Again, as I've said before, the draft is not for the first game of the season. It's not for the middle of the season. It's for the future of the franchise. We're going to draft the best players for the future of this organization without regard to anything else."
On if there is more value on moving back in the draft with the new CBA: "That's probably offset by the fact that the players at the front don't cost as much as they used to. So, it depends on what's important to you."
On the defensive line depth in this year's draft: "Like I said, we need everything. Nothing is more acute than anything else. There are some good players that can rush the passer. It's about the one that you get though, isn't it? I mean, we could talk about how deep it is, but if they all go in a run in the second round, it really doesn't matter, you know? It's about locating a guy. If you can locate a guy that can impact and help you, whether it's in the fourth round, sixth round, seventh round, free agent, you want to locate that guy. That guy can play for you, so we're trying to locate that guy right now."