Apr. 19—In NFL circles, it’s often said you don’t truly know what you have in a player until after three seasons. With that in mind, we’ve long preferred holding off on grading a draft class until that much time has passed.
Bob Quinn is gone, but his impact on the Detroit Lions’ roster figures to linger for at least a couple more years. In fact, all six members of the 2018 draft class remain with the franchise.
Let’s take a pick-by-pick look at how the former general manager did that year. — Center Frank Ragnow (Round 1, pick No. 20)
Analysis: Heading into this draft, Detroit had several holes, including a significant one along the interior of the offensive line. The working assumption, following the departure of Travis Swanson in free agency, was the team would move Graham Glasgow to center and take a guard in the first couple rounds.
That’s exactly what the Lions did. But instead of drafting a collegiate guard, they snagged one of the best centers in Ragnow. The selection matched up with Ragnow’s pre-draft projections but caught observers somewhat off guard because the team did an expert job of hiding interest.
As a rookie, Ragnow started all 16 games at left guard, missing a single offensive snap after his shoe fell apart. As you might expect, he struggled with consistency that first season, including a dreadful showing against Aaron Donald.
Ragnow shifted to center his second year and he made significant overall improvements, particularly as a run blocker. That upward career trajectory only continued in 2020 as he was selected to the Pro Bowl, despite very little fan support in the voting process. That only showed how much the league’s coaches and players thought of his game.
Heading into his fourth season, Ragnow is a viewed as a durable and productive piece of the team’s foundation, playing one of the most important positions on offense. You can make a strong case this was Quinn’s best draft pick.
Grade: A — Running back Kerryon Johnson (Round 2, pick No. 43)
Analysis: The Lions waited a year too long to address their need at running back, attempting to make it work with Ameer Abdullah as the lead option in 2017.
After reportedly making a run at trading back into the first round, Quinn moved up eight spots in the second to snag Johnson, a productive workhorse out of Auburn. The biggest concern was his durability, which Quinn dismissed when asked about it on draft night.
As a rookie, Johnson looked to be Detroit’s long-sought solution to their woes, breaking the franchise’s embarrassing drought without a 100-yard rusher in Week 3, while averaging an impressive 5.4 yards per carry through 10 games.
But the injury bug struck in the middle of the season, with a knee problem sidelining Johnson the final six weeks. And a second knee issue would knock him out for eight games in 2019, while his yards per carry plummeted to 3.6.
Last year, no longer comfortable relying on Johnson, the team drafted D’Andre Swift in the second round and signed veteran Adrian Peterson. Johnson shifted into a third-down role, which, to his credit, he embraced and thrived as a blocker.
Meanwhile, his touches suffered. Despite playing all 16 games, Johnson finished with a career-low 52 carries. With Swift emerging as a stud and the Lions adding Jamaal Williams as a complement this offseason, Johnson is unlikely to see an increased role in 2021.
Grade: C- — Safety Tracy Walker (Round 3, pick No. 82)
Analysis: Prior to last season, this pick was heading toward a solid A. The Lions were smart with Walker, using him in a limited capacity as a rookie. That built up his confidence, allowing him to thrive in a versatile, full-time role as a second-year player in 2019.
That year, Walker primarily lined up deep, but he was also Detroit’s top option to defend opposing tight ends in man coverage. But instead of sticking with what was working, the Lions traded for veteran Duron Harmon and shifted Walker to more of a box safety role last season.
He unquestionably struggled with the transition, even losing playing time to Will Harris early in the campaign. And though Walker was taking most of the snaps late in the season, his performance never rebounded.
The talent and ability the Lions saw when they celebrated the selection of Walker are still there, but he needs to be built back up by the new coaching staff. If he can get back to the level he was playing at in 2019, it would be worth trying to re-sign him next offseason.
Grade: B+ — Defensive lineman Da’Shawn Hand (Round 4, pick No. 114)
Analysis: The Lions gave up their original fourth-round selection to move up in the second round, then paid a steep price to move back into the fourth, sending a future third-round choice to New England.
With the selection, the Lions added Hand, a former five-star recruit who posted modest numbers in Alabama’s defensive scheme but had a skill set that ported well into what former coach Matt Patricia was running in Detroit.
Initially, it looked like a solid move. Hand was productive as a rookie, providing some much-needed interior pass rush. But injuries have stunted his development. After finishing his rookie season on injured reserve with a knee injury, he missed 13 games with various issues in 2019.
As a rotational piece in 2020, Hand was minimally effective. Again, injuries played a role, sidelining him for a pair of three-game stretches.
Grade: D+ — Offensive tackle Tyrell Crosby (Round 5, pick No. 153)
Analysis: Drafted to serve as Detroit’s swing tackle behind Taylor Decker and Rick Wagner, Crosby was called upon to start seven times his first two seasons and he showed adequate ability to handle both the right and left tackle spots in a pinch.
After the Lions cut Wagner at the end of the 2019 season, Crosby was in line for a starting job, but the team opted to sign Halapoulivaati Vaitai to a massive contract in free agency, seemingly nixing the idea.
But when Vaitai suffered a foot injury ahead of the 2020 regular season, not only did Crosby capably fill in as he had the previous two seasons, he seized a starting job and pushed Vaitai inside to guard.
Crosby isn’t a star, but he does everything well enough that he’s not a weak link when he’s out there. Barring the team drafting an offensive tackle in the first two rounds this year, he’ll likely enter the season as a projected starter for the first time in his career.
Grade: B — Fullback Nick Bawden (Round 7, pick No. 237)
Analysis: The Lions were looking to add a traditional fullback and Bawden, a rocked-up lead blocker for a pair of 2,000-yard rushers in college, seemed like a solid choice at the end of the draft.
Unfortunately, injuries have been the story of his career. He suffered a torn ACL during the offseason program, ending his rookie year before it began. He returned in 2019 and appeared in 10 games before landing on injured reserve once again.
Bawden also missed the 2020 season with an undisclosed injury suffered during training camp. He remains on the roster, but he might not play another down for the Lions.
Grade: F — Overall
Analysis: While the jury remains out on the 2020 class, this appears to be Quinn’s best draft, top to bottom. It’s not without its flaws and injuries have certainly put a damper on the group’s potential impact, but the former GM found a Pro Bowler in the back half of the first round, a pair of solid contributors on Day 2 and a starting-caliber offensive tackle on Day 3.
There were warning signs with Johnson’s and Hand’s durability, so Quinn bears some of the blame there. Had those two managed to stay healthy, this class would have given Detroit’s 2013 group a run for the best of the past decade.