Opinion: Lions rookie GM Brad Holmes, running his first NFL draft, nearly as excited as his picks

And now come the grades.

You don’t have to tell Brad Holmes, the new Detroit Lions GM, that the real assessment of his first draft may not be realized for years.

But feedback from the NFL draft comes fast and furious, snap judgments in a microwaved environment.

“After we took the North Carolina State defensive tackle, Alim McNeill, my phone was blowing up,” Holmes, referring to the third-round pick, reflected to USA TODAY Sports. “Coaches and scouts were going, ‘Great pick!’ Then, as I was about to go to bed, somebody sent me a thing about somebody graded the pick an ‘F!’ The reason they graded it an ‘F’ was because we picked a defensive tackle and not a wide receiver. But what if we didn’t take the defensive tackle and still lacked depth there? Either way, it’s going to bite you." 

Lions general manager Brad Holmes just wrapped up his first draft running the show. (Photo: AP)

Holmes, 41, won’t lose any sleep over the grading from pundits or the perceptions that the Lions had a “boring” draft. No, Holmes wasn’t in the market for a first-round quarterback and didn’t make a play on any of the top-rated receivers. This wasn’t about getting the next Barry Sanders or the new Megatron. Detroit used its first three picks on big bodies for the trenches.

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Sure, that lacks sizzle, but it was intriguing enough as a man calling the shots in the war room for the first time tried to add some key building blocks for a mediocre franchise that had the NFL’s worst defense last season, which is just one of the reasons the Lions have a new coach, too, in Dan Campbell.

High-fives and daps

Then again, boring is in the eye of the beholder. Did you get a glimpse of the war room cam after Holmes used the seventh pick overall on Thursday night to land the best offensive lineman in the draft? Holmes looked like one of the festive family members we see surrounding prospects in living rooms across America. The dude was absolutely lit after they turned in the card for Oregon tackle Penei Sewell.

“I didn’t really know what I did until I saw the footage afterward,” Holmes said Saturday night, unwinding from the three-day draft. “I thought I just hugged some people, giving high-fives and daps.”

His wife, Lisa, broke it down for him. 

“She said, ‘Did you see what you did? You just dragged a guy across the room.’ It was pure, genuine emotion.”

The Lions grabbed Penei Sewell with the seventh overall pick in the first round of the NFL draft. (Photo: Kirby Lee, USA TODAY Sports)

That guy happened to be Lions president Rod Wood.

We’ll ultimately see what the football looks like, but add that draft-night moment to Campbell’s bizarre introductory news conference and to, yes, the expletives that second-round Washington D-tackle Levi Onwuzurike spewed after his selection on Friday, and this trip does not seemed destined to be boring.

Holmes was one of seven new GMs across the league running the drafts. While Washington’s Martin Mayhew and Jacksonville’s Trent Baalke have previous GM experience, Holmes is one of the true rookies in that hot seat, along with Carolina’s Scott Fitterer, Houston’s Nick Caserio, Atlanta’s Terry Fontenot and Denver’s George Paton. Holmes previously spent 18 years in personnel with the Rams, climbing the ladder to become the team’s director of college scouting in 2013. After years watching Rams GM Les Snead call the shots in the war room, it was his turn.

“What I learned was watching Les being so collaborative with the coaching staff and the personnel staff,” Holmes said. “And seeing him lean on others, in terms of getting their opinions and independent thoughts. It’s helped me a ton. Ever since I got here, I explained what the value is of independent thought while trying to eliminate group-think.

"That serves us well, because if you have a truly collaborative process and then you’re encouraging healthy dissent and independent thought, then it makes it a seamless process."

NBA life before NFL

Holmes was reminded about his journey to becoming an NFL GM. Although it’s been mentioned occasionally by Ray Agnew, the Lions’ assistant GM — “He’s been phenomenal in this whole process; I wouldn’t be able to do it without him,” Holmes said — his unique trek has lately been way in the back of his mind.

“As soon as I got the job, man, it’s like that treadmill has been going 100 miles per hour,” he said. “You’ve just got to jump on it and keep up. You get hired at such a critical juncture. You either keep up or you crash and burn. But now that you bring it up, it is pretty cool to think about where it all started.”

Holmes played defensive tackle at an HBCU, North Carolina A&T, where he majored in journalism and mass communication. His first job in sports? He was an intern in the public relations department for the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks during the 2002-2003 season, writing stories for the website and distributing daily press clippings to the front office.

On game days and nights, Holmes worked the visiting team’s locker room, collecting quotes that he transcribed for distribution to the media. He laughed about the time San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich chewed him out after a loss, responding to an awkward question.

“That was the coolest part of the job,” Holmes remembered. “I got up-close and personal with all the NBA teams. When Michael Jordan came in with the Wizards, I think it was his last game at Phillips Arena, I still have the mini-recorder with the tape in it and everything from that postgame interview. I’ve saved it, wrapped it up and labeled it … and will give it to my son if I can get the damn thing to work.”

The man surely appreciates some history. He parlayed that year with the Hawks into an internship in the St. Louis Rams’ PR department. From there, then-running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery urged then-GM Charley Armey to give him a crack in the scouting department. He’s worked his way up, now writing another type of history with the Lions — while waiting for the real grades to come in. 

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