Why history says Lions drafting front seven player in Round 1 makes sense

Bob Quinn, it seems, has thought of this moment for a while. Running an NFL team, having a guy he knows well as his head coach. Working with a man who understands what he’s thinking, including on how to build a team.

Those thoughts started when Quinn and Matt Patricia were both staffers with the New England Patriots. Now, they're running the football side of the Detroit Lions. They have their own ideas, their own thoughts.

But there is something to learn from their shared past. The two of them spent hours discussing prospects over the years in New England. They scouted so many players together.

While many of those may blend together for Patricia and Quinn, how they do it still stands out from those car rides and scouting trips together.

“We did not go scout him together, but I remember specifically watching Jerod [Mayo] as a college player and then into his rookie year we saw he had a really good rookie year, about how we thought he could be even better going forward,” Quinn told ESPN earlier this year. “I remember that case and point of sitting there, watching him together.”

They weren’t tasked with evaluating a player like Mayo -- a first-round pick -- then. They looked more at late-round guys. But they had those discussions, which were the beginnings of formulating what is going to happen next week during their first draft in Detroit.

Mayo was New England’s first-round pick (at No. 10 overall) in 2008 and was one of the many defensive front seven players the Patriots have taken in the first round since 2001. Of the 15 first-round picks in that time frame, six have been defensive linemen (three ends, three tackles).

The Patriots took defensive backs, linebackers and tight ends twice in the second round. They went offensive tackle once (Nate Solder), offensive guard once (Logan Mankins) and running back once (Laurence Maroney).

But the front seven -- also the area of most need for Detroit -- encompassed over half of the first-round picks by the Patriots since 2001. That includes all four picks while Patricia was defensive coordinator.

Expand that to the first pick the Patriots took in every draft with Patricia as coordinator and it adds another defensive end (Derek Rivers, 2017), linebacker (Jamie Collins, 2013) and defensive back (Cyrus Jones, 2016).

Considering the Lions’ needs and the history of the men making decisions -- a front seven selection for the Lions in next week’s NFL draft would seem like a reasonable thing to go with, as long as the requisite talent is there.

Quinn, in his first two years as general manager, has made the safe, high-floor first-round pick in Taylor Decker and Jarrad Davis in 2017.

What could that mean for the Lions at No. 20?

It’s tough to truly predict, but working with the metric that there are no unexpected falls in the draft (although the Lions likely wouldn’t mind seeing a players like linebackers Roquan Smith and Tremaine Edmunds or offensive guard Quenton Nelson slip to them), here are some potential Detroit targets.

Taven Bryan, DT, Florida: He might not be an impact player right away, but could develop into a lineman who could fit in a 4-3 or 3-4 potentially at end or tackle depending on scheme. Had 5.5 career sacks, which is a concern. Quinn has shown to like Florida players, though, with his first two picks last year being Gators (Davis and Teez Tabor).

Da’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama: He has experience with new line coach Bo Davis, and his NFL.com player comp is Ndamukong Suh. It’s not likely Payne matches Suh’s dominance, but he’s a strong run-stopper who has good size to play in the middle of a defense (6-foot-2, 311 pounds).

Vita Vea, DT, Washington: Vea would be a mild surprise to last until No. 20 but if he’s there, he should be under heavy consideration. He would be really valuable in a 3-4 defense (which the Lions figure to run a bit) and like Payne, his NFL.com player comparison is a guy Lions fans are familiar with: Haloti Ngata. Vea would improve Detroit’s run defense from the moment he was drafted.

Marcus Davenport, DE, UTSA: He’s probably the best athlete of the players listed here and would give the Lions a plus-potential edge rusher. He was also coached by Bo Davis, so there’s familiarity there. Like Vea, he’s possibly gone before No. 20.

Harold Landry, DE/OLB, Boston College: If the Lions are set on adding an edge rusher early, Landry could be the guy. He has good speed (4.64-second 40-yard dash) and great athleticism. He can play in a 3-4 or a 4-3 and either as an end or an outside linebacker. The Lions will have all the information on him, too, because new defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni was his position coach. If Vea and Davenport are off the board, Landry is a likely Lions target.

Will Hernandez, OG, UTEP: If there’s a run on defensive front seven talent, Hernandez becomes an intriguing option at No. 20. He’s a tough player who would likely be a starter from day one at guard, setting the Lions' line (and moving Graham Glasgow to center). The Lions have invested a lot in their offensive line under Quinn. He would be the potential final piece.

Derrius Guice, RB, LSU: Guice could be the No. 1 running back the Lions have been trying to find for a long time. He has good speed, great power and runs hard. He also wouldn’t be expected to do everything right away (the Lions have LeGarrette Blount and Theo Riddick for certain roles), but could be the game-changing threat Matthew Stafford hasn’t had since Reggie Bush in 2013. The defense needs more help than the offense, but if Guice is the best player available, he could easily be the selection.