It’s very rare that NFL fans get an inside look at what happens in a team’s War Room during a draft. It’s why the small glimpses we get, like the Cardinals reacting to the Detroit Lions sniping their running back selection in Ameer Abdullah, are notable and exciting. Our friends over at Blogging the Boys managed to get their hands on a high enough resolution picture of the Cowboys’ draft board that they were actually able to sift through the information and see where players ranked. We weren’t so lucky for the Detroit Lions, but we did get a brief, blurry view during the drafting of Taylor Decker that allows us to make a few assumptions about how Bob Quinn approaches the draft.
The names of the players on the board are almost completely illegible due to how it was filmed, but there is still plenty of information in this video. It won’t tell us who they had ranked where, but we can still gauge how a Bob Quinn draft looks from a personnel perspective. With the help of several POD staffers like Andrew Kato, we were able to screencap and snoop a bit to dig deeper into what a Detroit Lions draft room looks like.
How are players separated
It looks like the players are separated into three different tiers. Unfortunately, these aren’t distinct enough to gain any more detail from that. They made a good effort to keep everything even, but there are a couple gaps that look like maybe they just took someone off the board ahead of them and didn’t shuffle everyone up.
They also have some players slightly to the left, some slightly to the right, with most centered. I’m not sure what these indicate, and we don’t have anything to go on. There are a few players that straddle the line of positions (notably OC and OG), which likely signals a player scouted for both positions as a swing.
There are also different colors, but the video is too blurry and indistinct to make out if these are supposed to mean anything or if they are just players’ team colors. One thing that we can get with a little bit of work is a count, which I’ll cover a bit later.
What the Heck is a "CE"?
One of the first items that stood out to me was the inclusion of a "CE" position, sandwiched between DE and RE. DE is,of course, defensive end, while RE denotes right end. CE, as many who followed the draft very closely, likely points to "Closed End", a more narrow way of viewing defensive end prospects for a specific type of 4-3 alignment. Teryl Austin’s defense isn’t a base 4-3, instead relying on many Over and Under concepts relating to where the linebackers line up. In this scheme, one of the ends is open, or lined up over an OT with no TE, while the other is closed, lined up over the OT that has a TE outside of them. Bleacher Report has a detailed report for what all of these terms are and how the fronts are aligned if you’re interested. For simplicity’s sake, just know that a closed end and open (most often the weak side rusher, or Right End noted earlier) have different traits that are valued more when evaluating.
This is important to understand because we see proof of something many of us during the draft process already suspected: that the Detroit Lions evaluate their defensive linemen by role. Players like Shaq Lawson would likely have been placed in the RE column, as more of a pure athletic pass rusher, while his teammate Kevin Dodd would probably have fit more in the closed end mold. Anthony Zettel, whom the Detroit Lions drafted in the sixth round, is a closed end. Many times, a closed end is a tweener, somewhere between a DE and a DT, another way of describing Zettel.
What about "DS" or "DC"?
DS and DC are a little more vague, but based on the only positions that are left we can safely assume those are Defensive Safety and Defensive Corner. What’s notable in this instance is that while we noted that DE is broken up into roles, the secondary was not. That’s somewhat notable in that a defense like Austin’s typically has defined SS and FS roles. This wasn’t a very strong draft for safeties, so it’s possible the position wasn’t broken up simply because there wasn’t much to look at.
All the Wide Receivers
The Detroit Lions didn’t draft a wide receiver in any round for the first time since, I don’t know, Millen. That’s important to note when looking at this because the team looked at no less than 36 Wide Receivers in the draft. They had so many on their board that they had to put one vertically to fit them all where they needed. That’s a little nuts. It really puts their free agency into perspective, however, since they picked up Marvin Jones, Jeremy Kerley, Andre Roberts, and Andre Caldwell as vets on the market along with several UDFA. If it hasn’t been said enough already, that really isn’t a great sign for guys like Corey Fuller or even TJ Jones.
Yet, Like No RBs
Back in 2014, the Detroit Lions were blasted for ignoring the WR position in a very strong draft. This is also the draft that netted Eric Ebron, so fans are salty as can be. 2016 was considered the best RB draft of at least the past seven or eight years in terms of depth and strength of talent, but here the Detroit Lions are with only three names near the top of their board. Their entire RB column had around 14 names on it.
This could mean a number of things. It could be that the team disagreed with the draft media that this was a strong RB class, after all they looked at 14 guys and only had three near the top. It could also be that they’re very confident in their present stable of Ameer Abdullah, Theo Riddick, and others. Considering their acquisition of Stevan Ridley and pursuit of Arian Foster, that’s probably unlikely. It could also be that they are looking ahead to a 2017 class that could be the best in history for RB. I’ve seen no less than seven RBs that have been called "first-round talents", so this wouldn’t surprise me.
Jimmy Landes and Special Teams
The Detroit Lions had five long snappers on their draft board. Despite having Sam Martin and Matt Prater, they had seven punters and five kickers scouted as well. Also at least three return specialists. Can’t claim Bob Quinn isn’t thorough on teams.
This is where it got really interesting to me. In total, I was able to count 291 player cards on the Detroit Lions board. That’s a high number for an NFL team, as the average is usually considered between 200-250. If you’re scouting four long snappers, you’ll probably end up at the high end, though, am I right?
In total, the team looked at 53 offensive lineman. Only five offensive tackles were in their top tier, despite being one of their biggest needs and their first pick. The team scouted 23 tight ends, compared to only 13 running backs, showing that they definitely saw the lack of talent and depth at that position that we all did but were unable or unwilling to pull the trigger on one they wanted.
Only slightly less than this was the 52 players (17.87%) the Detroit Lions scouted on the defensive line. It’s very clear that when Quinn said he was going to build through the trenches, he meant it. His draft closed out with three offensive lineman and two defensive lineman, so it bore out that approach in the end, too.
At 36 players, the Detroit Lions committed 12.37% of their entire targets to wide receivers. That’s an incredible number for a position that the Lions ended up not investing in and is even more notable considering how weak this wide receiver class was overall. Combined, the team looked at 31 linebackers (10.65%) and 42 defensive backs (14.43%).
There’s a lot of assumptions we can make from looking at these numbers, but the grain of salt that’s needed is that it will always be assumptions. Unless someone comes forward with a high res picture of the draft board, we won’t know for sure where the team had their draft picks ranked in relation to others, so it’s a whole lot of guesswork. Still, this is a lot more than most teams have to go on, and I’ll take any little bit of data I can get about my team as they move forward into a new era.