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Lions GM Brad Holmes intrigued by Senior Bowl quarterbacks’ battles through adversity

Holmes seems intrigued by the Senior Bowl quarterback group and their fight through adversity. But he wouldn’t call the class underrated.

Duke’s Mayo Bowl - North Carolina v South Carolina Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

The Detroit Lions are down in Mobile, Alabama for a week of Senior Bowl practices. Having been given the opportunity to coach the American team for the entire week, they’ll get an inside look into some of these draft prospects in an intimate way that’s not afforded to the other NFL teams in attendance.

Quarterback will be a hot topic all week. While the Lions have still professed their confidence in Jared Goff, especially after his strong finish to the season, Detroit is in a prime position to potentially take a franchise quarterback, should they find one worthy. With two first-round picks, including the second overall selection in the 2022 NFL Draft, if there’s a quarterback they like, they’ll have a chance to get him.

Lions general manager Brad Holmes met with Detroit media for a brief session on Monday night before Tuesday’s first set of practices and noted his intrigue in the trio of quarterbacks they’ll be coaching all week—North Carolina’s Sam Howell, Liberty’s Malik Willis, and Western Kentucky’s Bailey Zappe.

“The crop that came down here, it’s a great, especially on the American roster,” Holmes said. “Credit to (Senior Bowl executive director) Jim Nagy for getting those top guys to come to the game. They’re all different, they all offer different flavors and capabilities.”

The common consensus is that Howell and Willis are potential first-round picks that Detroit could target with either their second overall pick or potentially their first round pick from the Rams, which will be either 31st or 32nd overall, depending on if Los Angeles wins or loses the Super Bowl.

Both quarterbacks came in with a lot of hype going into the 2021 college football season, but both went through some turbulence. After an impressive 2020 season, where he completed over 68 percent of his passes for 30 touchdowns and seven interceptions, Howell went through some serious issues in 2021. Having lost four offensive weapons to the 2021 NFL Draft, Howell had to re-develop chemistry with a new set of receivers.

Willis, too, had some issues to overcome. Transferring from Auburn to Liberty in 2019, Willis had to sit out an entire year before quickly emerging as the team’s starting quarterback. However, it was an entirely different level of play, and his offensive line did him no favors in 2021.

Holmes actually believes the adversity both quarterbacks went through in the past couple of years is a positive thing for both passers.

“They’ve all kind of battled some kind of adversity and I thought that was kinda cool,” Holmes said. “You’ve got Howell, he lost a lot of skill (players) in the pass (game). He’s got kind of a new cast he’s working with. And you’ve got Willis that had the transfer, and he had to go to a different level and produce.”

As for Zappe, he hasn’t gone through any similar adversity, but Holmes did come away impressed by his statistical output in 2021 with some seriously eye-popping numbers: 69.2 completion percentage, 5,967 yards, and 62 (!) touchdowns.

“His production speaks for itself,” Holmes said.

The common draft consensus, though, is that there may not be a quarterback worthy of a top-five pick in this year’s class. When asked if he believed this year’s quarterback class is being underrated by some, Holmes interestingly disagreed.

“I wouldn’t say it’s underrated. Everything is case-by-case. Everybody has their own plight. So I wouldn’t say underrated. Every team is looking for something different. I always say all 32 teams have 32 different boards. They have different ways that they evaluate each position. But I think this week, in particular for all of those quarterbacks of this game, it’s going to be big for them.”

The first practice for the American team is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon at 3 p.m. ET and Pride of Detroit will be in attendance.