Faced with a rebuilding project when he took over, Lions general manager Brad Holmes has a plan to build a sustainable winner in Detroit.
Is there a secret sauce to building a winning NFL franchise? Detroit Lions general manager Brad Holmes has a distinctive draft pattern. He puts draft prospects in three categories: the best player available, positions of need, and players who are the right fit. Holmes mixes and matches these when picking players for the Lions. He may not have one secret sauce, but he has his recipe.
Players who are the right fit are the base ingredient for Holmes. He wants players who are intelligent, explosive, aggressive and mesh with the Lions’ culture. The blurred line happens in the other two. He consistently takes the best player available at a position of need. Holmes stirs the pot and lets his recipe take shape.
Penei Sewell was the best player available at the seventh overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft. Sewell also filled a position of need. The Lions’ run offense was terrible, the level of play at the right tackle position was awful, in 2020. Sewell plays with a nasty edge to his game, which matched the culture Holmes was trying to bring to Detroit.
On Day 3 of that draft, Holmes added a wide receiver who would add some spice to his recipe–Amon-Ra St. Brown out of the University of Southern California. St. Brown is a physical slot receiver who plays with a serious chip on his shoulder. St. Brown’s mentality gelled nicely with the Lions. His sure hands and precise route running made him the best player available at his position. St. Brown also filled a need for Detroit; most of their wide receivers left in free agency in 2021. Sewell and St. Brown had solid rookie seasons for Detroit and made the Pro Bowl in 2022. However, the recipe was missing something; because Detroit finished the 2021 season 3-13-1.
Brad Holmes added big ingredients to his Lions’ recipe in 2022 draft
Brad Holmes added more notable ingredients in the 2022 draft. The first piece was Aidan Hutchinson, a defensive end from the University of Michigan. Hutchinson was arguably the top prospect in the 2022 draft, and he feel into the Lions’ lap at No. 2 overall. Hutchinson’s relentless motor made him a perfect fit, along with a willingness to learn and budding leadership skills. The Lions’ pass rush was the worst in the NFL in 2021 so he filled a position of need.
Holmes traded up to No. 12 from 32 with the division rival Minnesota Vikings to take speedy Alabama wide receiver Jameson Williams in the first round of the 2022 draft. Williams was the top receiver prospect in the 2022 draft class before tearing his ACL n the College Football National Championship game. The Lions needed a down-the-field threat, so Holmes signed DJ Chark to fill that role on a one-year deal last offseason. He knew he could leave a dynamic playmaker with world-class speed in the oven until he was ready. Lions fans got a taste of what Williams could do in 2022, with more to come next season.
Linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez, a sixth-round pick in 2022, was the spice no one saw coming. Holmes tossed a heat-seeking linebacker into the pot when no one was looking. Rodriguez’s nose for finding the ball carrier at all costs meshed easily with the Lions’ culture. The former Oklahoma State Cowboy was the best linebacker/player available and filled a position of need.
The Lions currently have eight picks in the 2023 NFL Draft. Brad Holmes will put on his chef’s hat again in late-April. He uses free agency as an appetizer. The main dishes he cooks are through the draft. That’s the best path to a sustainable winner, and it’s one Holmes is unlikely to stray from.