The Detroit Lions have long needed a beer pass rush. However, under general manager Bob Quinn, a concerning draft trend about edge rushers has developed.
General manager of the Detroit Lions, Bob Quinn, has been with the team through four NFL drafts. As we approach the 2020 NFL Draft, it is time to discuss a concerning trend of Quinn’s when it comes to the NFL draft. In particular, the edge-rushing position.
Ever since the 2016 offseason, Quinn’s first one with the Lions, there has been at least one big hole on the edge of the defense that needed to be filled. First, in 2016, it was about needing to find a reliable and impactful edge rusher to deploy opposite former Lion Ezekiel Ansah.
Instead, the Lions neglected the need in both free agency and the 2016 NFL Draft. In free agency, the only defensive end the Lions signed was Wallace Gilberry and only to a one-year deal. Gilberry was a nine-year veteran at the time and was never an impactful player in Detroit.
Despite the need to add a young, quality option with upside in the draft, Quinn proceeded to ignore the position almost completely. He didn’t draft an edge rusher until the sixth round when he selected Anthony Zettel, who was a defensive tackle coming out of college. Zettel did provide quality depth for a few years but was eventually cut prior to the 2018 season.
The next season, during the 2017 offseason, Quinn made a bigger effort to add to the edge-rushing room, making sure to keep as many pass-rushers from the 2016 season during the free agency period. He also signed defensive end Cornelius Washington to a two-year deal and many thought Quinn had finally signed a solid player to play the role of pass-rusher number two.
However, things didn’t pan out as Washington recorded just two-and-a-half sacks in what would be only one year in Detroit. Quinn must have believed in his 2017 offseason additions in free agency because he didn’t add a single defensive end during the 2017 NFL Draft until the sixth and seventh rounds.
Quinn drafted edge rushers Jeremiah Ledbetter (Arkansas) and Pat O’Connor (Eastern Michigan) in those two rounds, respectively. Ledbetter showed some interesting promise but ultimately flamed out, playing in just 16 games for them and making only 14 tackles and one-half a sack while O’Connor never even saw action for the Lions in regular season play. The 2017 offseason was, once again, a major disappointment for the Lions in the pass-rushing department.
In 2018 it was apparent to the entire NFL world that the Detroit Lions needed to seriously add some firepower to the edges of their defensive line. In free agency, Quinn made a solid effort to improve the position. He franchise-tagged Ansah and then signed preseason star defensive end Kerry Hyder and edge rusher Devon Kennard to one and three-year deals, respectively.
Clearly, the Detroit Lions’ general manager thought he had done solidly in free agency, as he drafted just one defensive end in the fourth round, Da’Shawn Hand (Alabama). Unfortunately for Quinn, it didn’t go as planned, with Ansah missing a lot of time to injuries and Hyder being a bust.
Kennard was a good signing, however, with him being a valuable JACK linebacker for the Detroit Lions. Hand was actually a very good rookie and moved all along the defensive line, but has not yet provided a big and constant impact. Kennard was one of the Lions’ best pass rushers off the edge, which should effectively illustrate how bad the situation got.
Going into 2019 everyone, absolutely everyone, believed that the Lions’ biggest need (by far) was at the edge-rushing position. It was widely known that Ansah would not be returning, which meant that they had zero impact players at the position. Quinn made a very large effort to replace that star power by signing defensive end Trey Flowers to a five-year mega-deal.
Quinn also gave 2018 surprise edge rusher Romeo Okwara a two-year extension, giving them a great number one defensive end and a solid depth piece. However, they still badly needed to add a rookie in the 2019 NFL Draft that could play a big role (potentially a starting one) from day one.
Instead, Quinn once again waited until day three to draft a pass rusher. That player was JACK linebacker Austin Bryant, out of Clemson. Bryant would end up being injured the majority of his rookie season last year, once again leaving Quinn without a rookie pass-rusher that could contribute to the defense, which was (and has been) a huge need.
Now, as the Lions turn to the 2020 NFL Draft and free agency, many are expecting Quinn to go big at the defensive end position this offseason. While it should be a top priority for him, there is a question that needs to be asked.
Why does everyone believe that Quinn will suddenly change his ways and spend a high draft pick on the edge rusher position? Many will say it’s because the need is as obvious as ever. However, it’s not a sure thing that Quinn will spend a day one or day two pick on the position.
Unless Ohio State defensive end Chase Young slips to Quinn where the Detroit Lions pick third overall, there’s no guarantee that he will draft an edge rusher inside the top three rounds. And even then, based on Quinn’s startling history surrounding the position, it’s no sure thing he won’t choose to trade down or select another position (cornerback or offensive lineman) despite the elite Young still being available.