By Will Burchfield
Bob Quinn struck gold in his first draft as Lions general manager when the team’s biggest need coincided with the best player available on its board: Taylor Decker.
In Quinn’s second go-around, it happened again.
The Lions selected Jarrad Davis out of Florida with the 21st overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, filling a gaping hole at linebacker with a player they considered the cream of the crop at his position.
“The board fell the way it did,” said a visibly excited Quinn. “It’s a player we targeted and it’s a player we wanted and we were fortunate to get him.”
In a deep linebacker class, the Lions were most impressed with Davis. And they pretty much had their pick of the litter. Aside from Haason Reddick, who went 13th overall to the Cardinals, the top linebackers, including Alabama’s Reuben Foster, were all on the board when the Lions’ pick rolled around.
They stuck with Davis, a guy they had coveted since the beginning of the scouting process last spring.
“I think he stood out amongst the linebacker crew this year,” Quinn said. “Normally you don’t have a large number of linebackers on your draftable board just because in college football a lot of linebackers are undersized, they’re playing at 215, 220 pounds. So to get an NFL-sized linebacker with the speed and athleticism, he stood out.”
Davis, 6’2, 240 pounds, is a versatile defender with the ability to play either middle or weakside linebacker. He has the strength and size to defend the run and the speed to play in coverage. Florida coach Jim McElwain called Davis “the heart and soul” of his team’s defense in 2016.
“He’s a passionate football player,” Quinn said. “He’s got very good playing speed, he’s a very good tackler, good blitzer, good coverage player. This guy’s a really well-rounded linebacker.”
Asked if he envisions Davis as a three-down defender, Quinn didn’t hesitate to respond.
“Yes sir,” he said.
The Lions will instantly benefit from the addition of Davis after fielding one of the worst linebacker units in the league in 2016. DeAndre Levy was released earlier this offseason, meaning the only notable returning starter is Tahir Whitehead.
“It’s a position that we had trouble with last year, keeping guys healthy first off. And it’s a position where I think you really need a guy in the middle of your defense that can be looked upon to call the defense, hopefully become a leader in time and really be that gel between the secondary and the defensive line,” Quinn said. “It was a position of need for sure.”
On top of his NFL size and ability, the Lions were enamored of Davis’ character. In a draft full of stars with off-the-field issues, Foster among them, Davis was a guy who stood out for all the right reasons.
“None of these kids are perfect, that’s the thing,” Quinn said. “None of them are perfect. I felt like you minimize risk when you take guys without some issues, so feel real comfortable with the guy we took.”
When the Lions vetted Davis through members of the Florida coaching staff, from the equipment manager to the trainer to Coach McElwain, they were blown away by the positive feedback.
“They gave the guy glowing remarks in terms of intelligence, work ethic, toughness, leadership, all those things,” Quinn said. “It was one after another. It wasn’t just one source or one coach, it was everybody in the entire building.
“And then to solidify it we went down there, myself and a few others, and we had a long talk with him and spent a number of hours with him and felt real comfortable.”
Quinn suggested the Lions steered clear of players with red flags and off-field concerns. Davis had none.
“You have to evaluate not only the player on the field but the person that comes along with it. You gotta blend it together because you’re drafting the whole player, you’re drafting the whole person,” Quinn said. “You’re not just taking a guy who you’re gonna see out there on Sundays. He’s gonna be a guy that has to be in this building, has to be in this community, so it’s the whole package.”
As a run of offensive players fell from the board early in the first round on Thursday night, Quinn began sensing the Lions could be in luck. Over and over he returned to the team’s draft board, still filled with defensive prospects, and tried to contain his excitement.
“I kept going back (and checking), how many offensive players is that? And it just kept growing,” he said. “We didn’t expect that many but it worked out for us.
“Felt really fortunate to pick Jarrad as our 21st overall selection.”