Bob Quinn was "bothered" by the Detroit Lions' inability to run the football in short-yardage or most any other situation last season, and the team's third-year general manager set out to fix that in the draft.
The Lions used their first two picks and four of their six selections on upgrades for the running game.
They passed on defensive help to draft Arkansas center Frank Ragnow in the first round, traded up to get Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson in Round 2, nabbed backup tackle Tyrell Crosby in Round 5, and closed the draft with perhaps their most surprising pick, fullback Nick Bawden a year after removing the position from their offense.
"Having balance on offense is important, and I think as you guys know better than anybody I don't think we've been the most balanced offense here the last few years," Quinn said. "So I think that was a priority in the offseason to improve the running game. I think I said that here in January. So that was something we set out in free agency, in the draft, we're going to continue to look at every avenue to improve that. And I think we've done that the last couple days."
The Lions return all five running backs from the NFL's worst rushing offense, but signed LeGarrette Blount in free agency and paired him with Johnson in the draft.
The SEC Offensive Player of the Year in 2017, Johnson adds what Quinn called "a very unique" running style to a backfield that also includes Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick.
"He's a very patient runner initially, but when he sees the hole he's got great acceleration and he really finishes runs very well," Quinn said. "He's a little bit I'd say of an upright runner initially, but when it's time to get his pads down, he gets his pads down and gets yards after contact and finishes runs very well. So that combined with good speed, good vision, slashing style would be something that we've talked about that could kind of categorize his running style as well."
As big a lift as Johnson should provide an offense that averaged just 3.4 yards per carry last season, the Lions' biggest addition to the ground game was Ragnow, a mauling blocker who projects to start at either center or left guard this fall.
Ragnow missed half of his senior season at Arkansas with an ankle injury, but the Lions thought highly enough of him in their draft evaluations that they ceased contact with him after the Combine so as not to tip their hand.
Quinn said the Lions had "multiple offers" on the table to trade down at pick No. 20, but didn't want to miss out on Ragnow.
"I think it starts in the trenches. I think it starts up front," he said. "We want to build through the middle of our team, through the offensive line, defensive line and through the middle, and that's kind of what we believe in. I think going through the evaluation process, there was a number of players on the board that we liked. We just thought at the end of the day, Frank was the best player at that time. The guy that can help us the most, the quickest, and real excited about the pick."
A closer look at the Lions' picks
Round 1/20 - Frank Ragnow, C, 6-5, 312, Arkansas
The Lions had Ragnow ranked as the top center on their board and declined multiple trade-down offers to take him. Ragnow has the size, smarts and physicality the Lions want on the interior of their offensive line. He can play guard, too, and should be a Day-1 starter.
Round 2/43 - Kerryon Johnson, RB, 6-0, 213, Auburn
After a run on running backs took five off the board in the first 38 picks, the Lions traded up to get Johnson. General manager Bob Quinn said the Lions will use Johnson more as an outside runner, not the between-the-guards player he was at Auburn. Johnson was SEC Offensive Player of the Year, but missed time last season with injuries.
Round 3/82 - Tracy Walker, S, 6-1, 206, Louisiana-Lafayette
While pundits projected Walker as a late Day-3 pick, the Lions, worried that two teams in front of them in Round 3 would take Walker, and celebrated enthusiastically in their draft room when he fell to Pick No. 82. Walker is a long, rangy centerfielder who had three interceptions vs. SEC competition.
Round 4/114 - Da'Shawn Hand, DL, 6-4, 297, Alabama
Hand was rated the top recruit in the country coming out of high school, but didn't quite live up to that billing at Alabama. Still, he's a versatile defensive lineman who will play both inside and out in the Lions' new scheme. The Lions traded a 2019 third-round pick to take Hand.
Round 5/153 - Tyrell Crosby, T, 6-5, 309, Oregon
Crosby was widely projected as a Day-2 pick, but fell over reported concerns about concussions. The Lions needed a backup swing tackle, and found one in the three-year starter who was named Pac-12 offensive lineman of the year by his peers after not allowing a sack last season.
Round 7/237 - Nick Bawden, FB, 6-2, 245, San Diego State
A converted quarterback, Bawden blocked for 2,000-yard rushers at San Diego State each of the last two seasons. The Lions eliminated the fullback from their offense last spring, so Bawden will have to prove he's worth a roster spot in a crowded backfield this summer.