Detroit Lions president says team wants to re-connect with Calvin Johnson

Also, updates on bringing draft to Detroit and ‘Hard Knocks’

DETROIT — One thing on Rod Wood’s to-do list is to get Calvin Johnson back in the fold — not on the field — but to have the former wide receiver as a part of the organization like Barry Sanders.

The Detroit Lions president spoke at the Taste of the Lions, an annual charity event, on Wednesday night at Ford Field.  

“I had it on my agenda today to talk internally about some things  to approach (Johnson) about getting back and involved,’’ Wood said. “It’s on the agenda to reach out to him. We have Barry (Sanders) coming in this week for a couple of events. I want to kind of try and find a way to do something similar with what we’re doing with Barry, if Calvin would be interested.’’

Johnson retired unexpectedly in March 2016 after nine seasons with the Lions.

“It’s a very high priority. I would expect in a couple years he’ll be considered for the Hall of Fame and I really want to have a relationship at that point that’s productive for both sides,’’ Wood said. “We could be there celebrating with him and find ways to have him here to celebrate as well.’’

Also on Wood’s agenda is bringing an NFL draft to Detroit.

The draft held in Nashville a few weeks ago seemed to be a success from all angles.

“I wasn’t down there obviously, but we had people down there. I saw it on TV. I think they did a great job,’’ Wood said. “Obviously they have a special area there with Broadway and the bars and the restaurants. I think what we learned is we need to do something, if we do it here, that’s iconically Detroit. We have a few ideas of how we may do that. We’re in the running for a couple years from now to bring the draft here.’’

His thoughts would be to showcase all of downtown Detroit, using multiple venues. He’s uncertain about the timeline but thinks the 2021 draft location could be announced next spring.

One more thing:  Wood said no word yet on whether the Lions will be featured on HBO’s “Hard Knocks” this preseason. He expects a decision to be announced soon.

Since the Lions have missed the playoffs for two straight years, they are one of the teams eligible for the behind-the-scenes, NFL reality show.

“So far I’ve not heard anything. I don’t know if that means we’re under consideration and no one has told us or it’s such a top secret thing they didn’t want to leak it out,’’ Wood said.

The tight-lipped organization would just as soon pass, but they won’t have a choice.

“The consequences of ending the season the way we did makes us eligible. We’ll deal with the consequences,’’ Wood said. “I’d much rather be here a year from now saying we’re not eligible.’’

The Taste of the Lions has become a major charity fund-raiser for the team.

“During the offseason it’s one of the big things we do to get the fans close to the players and the coaches,’’ Wood said. “When you’re in the building every day you kind of get immune to how special this is for a fan to get a chance to talk to one of our players or get a picture with coach, or Mrs. Ford is downstairs – get a picture with her. It’s a great opportunity to get close to the fans, raise some money for charity and showcase some of the great restaurants around town.’’

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Detroit Lions GM Bob Quinn follows draft board not the advice of fans, media

Quinn wants what the fans want

Bob Quinn doesn’t let fan expectations or sentiment drive his draft decisions.

That shouldn’t even be questioned. He has worked all his professional life to learn the draft process.

The Lions general manager just completed his fourth draft weekend in Detroit.

On Day 3 of the draft Saturday he added three players on defense and three on offense. He was all smiles taking the podium afterward.

“Good mix of skill guys and big guys – felt like good value. Kind of made that one trade with Atlanta, moved back a couple spots, thought that was good business to acquire that other pick for really just moving down six spots, I think. I thought it was a good day,’’ Quinn said.

And it wasn’t just a good day.

“Thought it was a really good weekend for us overall as a team, got the team better,’’ Quinn added.

T.J. Hockenson, his first-round pick, filled a need at tight end and seemed to go over well.

It was the second-round pick, linebacker Jahlani Tavai, who raised a few eyebrows.

Why? Because he was not deemed second-round worthy by many NFL draft analysts and fans. That led to hand-wringing and deep sighs from many fans and short-sighted media members who thought they knew better. Ask them, they’d give you a list of players they preferred with that pick.

Tavai wasn’t as well known, in part because he played at Hawaii.

Will he be a Pro Bowl player? Maybe. It’s too early to know. No guarantees on his future.

None of this matters to Quinn. He took Tavai because he followed the Lions’ draft board which was created over the past 12 months.

With all due respect to fans, media, Mel Kiper, Todd McShay and other NFL draft analysts, Quinn knows the Lions’ needs and wants better than any one.

His first three drafts yielded good results. A year ago he made six picks and the five that stayed healthy made significant contributions to the season. His top six selections in 2017 are starters or regular players and in 2016 he drafted Taylor Decker, A’Shawn Robinson and Graham Glasgow with his first three picks. All are starters.

Quinn has proven that he can draft. With each draft he gets closer to the roster that he desires.

Still his pick of Tavai was roundly criticized.

The GM, who learned his craft while with the Patriots, won’t lose sleep over the criticism.

‘If I worry about what other people think, I’ll be up all night. Trust me. I respect the question. I really do and I understand it. But if we go into this process being scared about what other people think about our team and our evaluations, then we’ve got a long way to go,’’ Quinn said.

“We’re convicted on the guys we take. Are we going to be right 100 percent of the time? No, no team is. But I think we do a tremendous amount of work. And this is a 12-month process for us and this is something that is the lifeline of this organization in terms of players. So, I feel very confident about the evaluations and the guys we took this weekend, and also some of the rookie free agents we’re working on now,’’ he added.

Quinn wants exactly what the fans want — a team that can win in the playoffs.

Is that so hard to understand?

Let’s watch Tavai and the other picks on game days. That’s the only way to judge the draft.

UPDATED: Detroit Lions draft WR Travis Fulgham, RB Ty Johnson in 6th round

Lions turn to offense after 4 defensive picks

ALLEN PARK — The Lions drafted wide receiver Travis Fulgham (Old Dominion) with the 184th pick in the sixth round, then took a breath and selected running back Ty Johnson (Maryland) with the 186th pick.

Fulgham, who is 6-2 and 215 pounds, walked on to Old Dominion with only two years’ playing experience in high school and worked his way into a scholarship quickly. Fulgham contributed as a redshirt freshman (6-89-8.9) and then started all 13 games in 2016 (29-478-16.5, eight TD). His game took a step back in 2017 (30-394-13.1, one TD) with only seven starts in 12 appearances.

Fulgham formed a strong duo with Jonathan Duhart in 2018, joining his teammate on the second-team All-Conference USA squad and leading the conference with 1,083 receiving yards (63 receptions, 17.2 average) and scoring nine times in 12 games (eight starts) for the Monarchs.

Growing up his favorite wide receiver was Randy Moss.

“But over the past few years, Larry Fitzgerald, ‘Megatron’ (Calvin Johnson Jr.) of course, Detroit Lion, you know. I definitely watched a lot of his film throughout my career and I’ve tried to pick out little things from numerous amounts of receivers,’’ the wide receiver said.

“Fulgham is a big, competitive target with above-average ball skills, but a lack of separation traits could limit his ability to uncover against NFL press corner,’’ per NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein.

Johnson, who is 5-foot-10 and 208 pounds, had success returning kickoffs for touchdowns both at Michigan Stadium and at Ohio State. He became just the fourth Terrapin to surpass 4,000 all-purpose yards last October.

He’s not sure what his role will be with the Lions.

“It could be anything. I just want to come in and if it’s at kick return, that’s fine. If it’s at running back, it’s fine. I just want to come in and be one of the biggest contributors on the team and just play and win,’’ Johnson said in a conference call.

He’s already familiar with Ford Field where he played with the Terrapins in the 2016 Quick Lane Bowl. He scored on runs of 62 and 30 yards.

“It was a great experience. I’m just really excited to be a part of that and be a part of that field as a Lion. Just keep the games going, keep that performances going. I’m just ready to get there and learn and do what I can,’’ Johnson said.

He is one of four players in Maryland history to record at least 10 100-yard rushing games. He rushed for 1,004 yards as a sophomore in 2016 setting the Maryland record for yards per carry (minimum 100 attempts) at 9.1.

As a senior started in nine games, missing the final two due to a calf injury.

In earlier rounds the Lions drafted tight end T.J. Hockenson in the first round (eighth overall), linebacker Jahlani Tavai in the second (43rd overall), safety Will Harris in the third round (81st overall), defensive end Austin Bryant in the fourth round (117th overall) and cornerback Amani Oruwariye in the firth round (146th overall).

Detroit Lions draft Amani Oruwariye in the fifth round

Penn State cornerback earned first team all-Big Ten honors

ALLEN PARK — The LIons drafted their fourth straight defensive player when they selected cornerback Amani Oruwariye (Penn State) in the fifth round (146th overall).

He’s a bigger, taller corner at 6-foot-1 and 203 pounds.

“(My size) allows me to use my body to my ability, really dominate at the line of scrimmage and go up with receivers and make plays on the ball,’’ Oruwariye said on a conference call.

Oruwariye was a starter in 2018, earning first-team all-Big Ten nod by leading the Nittany Lions with 12 pass breakups and tying for the team lead with three interceptions, to go along with 51 tackles (two for loss) in 13 starts.

He ranked No. 5 in the Big 10 and No. 30 in the nation with 1.2 passes defended per game. He was No. 8 in the Big Te in the FBS with three interceptions.

He’s familiar with Lions Pro-Bowl corner Darius Slay. Says he’s watched a good amount of film of him. “Darius Slay plays the deep ball really well, it’s just great technique,’’ Oruwariye said.

Oruwariye, who attended Tampa’s Gaither High School, began to show his potential as a lockdown corner his junior season in 2017, earning second-team All-Big Ten honors despite not starting in 11 games played. He intercepted four passes and broke up eight others as a reserve, making 28 tackles.

He was a reserve as a freshman (five tackles, one PBU in 13 games) and sophomore, as well, though his playing time was more significant in 2016 (23 tackles, one INT, one PBU).

Oruwariye is pronounced OH-rue-war-ee-AY.

NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein wrote: “He can be an effective press-man defender, but must win at the line of scrimmage or he could become an early target for quarterbacks as he lacks makeup speed once he’s beaten. Oruwariye is a proven disruptor at the catch point and is willing to step up and take on run support duties. When all factors are considered, he’ll be considered a scheme fit for zone-heavy teams who covet physicality in press.”

Other defensive players drafted by the Lions include linebacker Jahlani Tavai (second round), safety Will Harris (third round) and defensive end Austin Bryant (fourth round).

The Lions opened the draft by selecting tight end T.J. Hockenson in the first round (eighth overall).

Detroit Lions draft DE Austin Bryant with fourth-round pick

He helped Clemson win a national title

 

ALLEN PARK — The Detroit Lions addressed a need on the defensive line when thy drafted defensive end Austin Bryant in the fourth round (117th overall) to kick off Day 3 of the 2019 NFL draft today (Saturday).

The Lions traded the 111th pick to the Atlanta Falcons for picks 117 and 186. They had given up pick 184 on Friday to move up and draft safety Will Harris.

“It feels great to be a Lion,’’ Bryant said on a conference call shortly after the pick.

Bryant (6-foot-4, 271 pounds) is the third straight defensive player drafted by the Lions but the first on the line. Three of his Clemson defensive line teammates were drafted in the first round — Clelin Ferrell (Raiders), Christian Wilkins (Dolphins) and Dexter Lawrence (Giants).

Bryant was part of Clemson’s two-deep rotation for his entire career, finishing with 153 tackles, 35 tackles for loss, 20 sacks, 32 quarterback pressures, four pass breakups, two caused fumbles and an interception in 1,807 snaps over 51 games (29 starts).

In 2018 he earned most outstanding defensive player honors in the Cotton Bowl with three tackles for loss, including two sacks, among his six tackles against Notre Dame. In the national championship game against No. 1 Alabama he contributed three tackles, one for loss.

He tore a pec muscle in November and played through the season, undergoing surgery in January.

“Recovery is going well, I should be cleared here soon. I have a few more weeks left on my rehab but everything is coming along great,’’ Bryant said. “Shouldn’t be any setbacks, I’m ready to get to work.’’

NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein’s analysis of Bryant: “Long-limbed base end with moldable potential as a rusher, but a lack of play strength and balance finds him on the ground way too often. Bryant offers potential as a rangy edge rusher with the length to separate and turn the corner, but he might not offer up enough rush talent to overcome his struggles in holding the point against the run. He has starter’s traits and backup talent, but he could end up as a future starter if he gets his strength right.”

Bryant had outstanding junior year, per NFL.com, and followed it up with another solid year in 2018 helping Clemson win a national title. He was third-team all-ACC with 44 tackles, 14.5 for loss and eight sacks.

He graduated in December with a degree in management.

In the first two days of the draft the Lions selected tight end T.J. Hockenson (Iowa) in the first round, linebacker Jahlani Tavai (Hawaii) in the second round and safety Will Harris (Boston College in the third round.

National media grades Lions’ second-round pick Jahlani Tavai

‘Patricia prefers big, thumping linebackers’

While the Detroit Lions’ decision to draft Jahlani Tavai in the second round (43rd overall) on Friday night surprised many, the Hawaii linebacker is respected by national media.

GM Bob Quinn said there was interest in Tavai from other teams near the time of the Lions’ pick. Quinn said he’s a natural fit for the Lions’ defense. (Scroll down to see Quinn explain the pick in detail.)

No one knows if Tavai will be a Pro Bowl player or a bust. Here’s an idea: Let him get on the field and prove himself.

A few comments from national NFL media on Tavai:

Pete Prisco, CBSsports.com: “I love him. He flies around to the football. Nowadays you’ve gotta have a guy that can fly around and run and chase. Grade: B+”

ESPN’s Mel Kiper: “I like Tavai. Good player, a tackling machine with some versatility. But I don’t like him in the second round. Not with Mack Wilson and Bobby Okereke, among others, still there. Tavai is my eighth-ranked inside linebacker and qualifies as the biggest reach of the day; he is No. 137 on my Big Board.”

NFL.com’s Chad Reuter: “Tavai was picked earlier than expected, much like Kyle Van Noy was a few years ago, though NFL scouts believe Tavai can become a starter. The Van Noy pick didn’t work out for the Lions, but hopefully this one will.”

NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah: “He can set the edge on the run, he’s very versatile, which they love. This is a player you can do a lot of different things with.”

Sports Illustrated’s Andy Benoit: “Stemming from his Patriots roots, Matt Patricia prefers big, thumping linebackers. He has one in Christian Jones, but Jones is average on the field in a contract year—hence the selection of Tavai. What will be interesting is whether Tavai’s arrival impacts where the explosive but somewhat inconsistent 2017 first-round linebacker Jarrad Davis plays. GRADE: C+”

WalterFootball.com: “Jahlani Tavai is a linebacker with pedestrian instincts, which doesn’t sound great. However, he has three-down ability. He’s forceful against the run and athletic enough to drop into coverage. I think this is a bit early for Tavai, who was a low Round 2/high Round 3 prospect, but he makes sense for the Lions, who had to upgrade their horrible linebacking corps. Grade: B-“

Bleacher Report’s Kristopher Knox: “While linebacker Jahlani Tavai was a reach, Detroit obviously believes that he’s a fit for the defense.”

Pro Football Weekly staff: “For the second straight year, Matt Patricia and Bob Quinn pull a big Day 2 surprise, following up the Tracy Walker selection in 2018 with Tavai, who wasn’t even our 2019 NFL Draft Mag and seems to be a mid-Day 3 prospect at a few other sites we’ve checked out. Tavai has big-time size at 6-2, 250 and hitting ability. We have to think his rugby background probably isn’t a coincidence with Patricia hailing from the Bill Belichick school of evaluating. Tavai has some red flags — including an assault arrest and shoulder injury early and late in his final season with the Warriors. We’ll be curious to see more about how fits in the plans for the Lions next to Jarrad Davis.”

 

Lions draft safety Will Harris after trading up in third round

He says Friday was best day of his life

ALLEN PARK — Will Harris said Friday was the best day of his of his life.

In fact, to make his point, he repeated it several times.

Harris, a safety from Boston College, was drafted in the third round by the Detroit Lions who traded up to grab him. Detroit dealt picks 88 and 204 to the Vikings for the 81st pick.

“I’m ready to rock,’’ Harris said in a conference call late on Friday night.

He will be reunited with Lions defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni who coached him at Boston College. “I can’t wait to get back to work with him. I’m familiar with the things we’ve done in the past it’s really exciting to be able to play under him again,’’ Harris said.

That familiarity may have played into the decision to key in on Harris, but it wasn’t the only factor.

“I remember going to (Boston College) practice, and like I said, I know a bunch of staff members, honestly probably 15 or 20 years. And you go there and Boston College had a pretty good list of prospects this year,’’ GM Bob Quinn said. “… Really, the first guy that a lot of guys mentioned to me was this guy. Like, ‘This guy’s like the heartbeat of our team.’ Not that those other guys were bad, they weren’t, because they have a lot of good football players and a lot of good leaders. But this guy was voted captain on that team, on that defense. So, that spoke volumes to me.”

Harris started at strong safety for the Eagles since late in his freshman year. He started all 12 games as a senior, finishing with 75 tackles and one interception.

CBSSports.com reported on Harris: “Active, run-support specialist safety who’s best when he can flow toward the line of scrimmage after the snap. Hips are a little stiff but his range is above-average, and because he’s decently explosive, he can close on the ball in a hurry. Good No. 3 safety with starting upside.’’

Harris’ father, Will, played receiver at Mississippi State from 1989 to 1992 and was drafted in the seventh round by Buffalo in 1993.

“Ever since I could remember, ever since I was really young, since I was able to even pick up a football, I’ve always been enamored by the game,’’ Harris said. “He grew up playing receiver. So, naturally I wanted to follow in his footsteps, but also at a young age I fell in love with defense. So, switched over to the defensive side of the ball in college and one of the best things I’ve ever done.

“He played an integral part in my football career and in my life. That’s my father. That’s my guy. He’s been there every step of the way. He’s been my coach growing up, my trainer, my mentor, above else, my father. He’s been a great father. It meant the world for me, for him to be here and see our culmination of work finally come down to this day. So, this is the best day of my life,’’ Harris added.

Earlier on Friday night, the Lions drafted linebacker Jahlani Tavai (Hawaii) in the second round, 43rd overall.

The Lions drafted tight end T.J. Hockenson In the first round on Thursday night with the eighth overall pick.

The 2019 NFL draft wraps up starting at noon on Saturday. The Lions have one pick in each of the fourth, fifth and sixth rounds, and two picks in the seventh round.