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A case for Brad Holmes as the 2022 NFL’s Executive of the Year

The Honolulu Blue Kool-Aid is flowing in Detroit as the Detroit Lions have been the hottest team in football. After a horrid start, the Lions have won six of their last seven putting them within half of a game of a playoff spot. Head coach, Dan Campbell has received a ton of credit, and for good reason. Campbell and his coaching staff deserve props for maximizing their talent, particularly the young talent. Campbell has been instrumental, but his partner in crime, General Manager, Brad Holmes needs more credit himself for bringing in fundamental pieces in just two years.

When Brad Holmes was hired, he was greeted by a mess of a roster. The former regime drove away good players for really no reason. To replace them, they drafted limited players and signed expensive free agents that were “scheme fits”. The result was an old and expensive roster that was likely the worst in the NFL. The cherry on top, the franchise quarterback and best player, Matthew Stafford wanted out. Since then, Holmes had executed an amazing turnaround in a short period.

Brad Holmes for executive of the year

Brad Holmes’ early success in Detroit

Brad Holmes finding steals in the draft

Holmes was hired due to his success in the draft, and he proved it his first year. In his first draft, he added three building blocks that are playing huge roles and have the potential to be elite players. His first-ever pick was Penei Sewell at number seven.

Sewell was one of the youngest players in the draft, but it is impossible to tell on Sundays. Since entering the league, Sewell has been one of the best tackles in the entire NFL. He is a superb athlete who loves getting into space and mauling people. This year, he has become even better as a pass blocker as he hasn’t given up a sack in five games. He is already great, but in a few years, he will be the best right tackle in the NFL.

On top of Sewell, Holmes somehow stole Amon-Ra St. Brown in the fourth round. It took a little bit for St. Brown to get going, but over the last 20 games, he has been one of the best receivers in the NFL. PFF‘s number two receiver, St. Brown excels at getting open and finding ways to move the sticks. At this point, St. Brown is a top-10 receiver in the NFL and the most important player on the Lions’ offense.

Holmes was not done there. His third-round pick, Alim McNeill is as solid as they come. Another great athlete for his size, McNeill is a stout run defender who is showing more and more as a pass rusher. Another mid-round pick, Derrick Barnes is new to playing off-ball linebacker, but the Purdue grad has developed nicely into a third linebacker who should get better with more reps.

After the seven rounds, Holmes was not done adding starters to the team. As undrafted free agents, Holmes added two starters for this team. Tough cornerback, Jerry Jacobs is as fearless as they come and plays with a huge chip on his shoulder. He can play anyone tough and has emerged as CB2. Holmes also signed tight end Brock Wright after only picking up 78 yards in 3 seasons at Notre Dame. Since the T.J. Hockenson trade, Wright was thrust into the starter role and has become a key cog in the run game and just scored a 51-yard game-winner in a crucial game.

After a strong first class, Holmes set the bar high for the next year, and Holmes completely surpassed it. Holmes chose the local product, Aidan Hutchinson, over a slew of talented defenders at the top of round 1. Since then, Hutchinson leads all rookies with sacks (7), grabbed two interceptions, and stuffed the run. Hutchinson is second in rookie of the year odds and is one of the most important players on defense.

Aidan Hutchinson
Brad Holmes

Holmes was not done revamping the defense. Converted wide receiver, Kerby Joseph is still learning the intricacies of safety, but already, he has three interceptions and two forced fumbles including two interceptions off Aaron Rodgers.

Holmes wrapped up this draft class with an amazing 6th round. First, he selected Malcolm Rodriguez out of Oklahoma State. The undersized linebacker has been a solid starter since Week 1. He then followed that up with James Houston. The HBCU product started the season on the practice squad, but since being elevated, he has grabbed five sacks in four games. At the very least, he looks like a problem as a situational pass rusher.

It already looks like a great class before really seeing Jameson Williams. With one of the picks from the Stafford trade, the Lions traded up to take the speedy WR as he recovered from an ACL. Since returning to the field, he has caught a touchdown, but he is being brought on slow in his recovery. If he can live up to his potential, this could be one of the best draft classes in Lions’ history.

Brad Holmes being smart in free agency

Due to the expensive free agents, Holmes has not had much money to spend on free agency. Because of that, he has been conservative, signing players with warts that allow him to bring them in on cheaper shorter contracts.

In his first year, Holmes’s key additions were his leaders on offense and defense. On offense, Holmes brought Jamaal Williams from rival Green Bay. Williams has had career highs in rushing yards both years in Detroit and leads the NFL in touchdowns this year. As evidenced by Hard Knocks, he is also a leader on the team who is beloved by the entire roster. On the other side of the ball, Holmes brought in Alex Anzalone from New Orleans. Anzalone has had some ups and downs, but he is a solid veteran leader and is playing the best football of his career.

Holmes has also found guys on the scrap heap. Josh Reynolds, Kalif Raymond, and Charles Harris were all discarded from their teams after struggling in various ways. Reynolds reignited his connection with Goff and became a reliable WR2. Raymond has reached heights that no one could have imagined. To that point, Raymond had been a fringe, roster guy who did not have a large impact. In Detroit, he has become one of the best punt returners in the league, a valuable slot receiver, and a beloved locker-room presence.

Harris completely revitalized his career. The former first-round pick was the Lions’ best defender with 7.5 sacks after having 6.5 in his career prior. All three players had different paths, but they all exceeded all expectations and earned two-year contract extensions.

In 2022, Holmes focused on adding more veteran players to mentor the young guys. DJ Chark, DeShon Elliot, and Isaiah Buggs were all brought in on one-year deals to provide leadership in their position groups. Elliot and Chark have struggled with injuries, but they are consummate professionals who have the respect of their groups. Both have also been solid when on the field. Buggs is more than a leader in his position group; he has become the leader of the entire defense. His vocal leadership has played a huge role in the defensive turnaround.

Why Brad Holmes deserves Executive of the Year?

There are several GMs who deserve consideration for Executive of the Year such as Howie Roseman in Philadelphia or Trent Baalke in Jacksonville, but Brad Holmes should win the award. Holmes had to essentially start the team from scratch acquiring 17 new starters in two years including everyone on the defense besides Will Harris and Jeff Okudah. That is almost unheard of especially for a playoff contender.

The best part of this is Holmes has done all of this without jeopardizing the future of this team. Six of the new starters have been drafted in the past two years, and that does not include key contributors such as Jameson Williams, James Houston, James Mitchell, Josh Paschal, and Derrick Barnes. Every player Holmes drafted has contributed in some way over the past two years.

They also have extra resources for future drafts. They still have the Rams’ first-round pick which should end up in the top five. Also, the Hockenson trade returned the Lions a 2023 second-rounder and a 2024 third-rounder. With how Holmes has drafted, those picks could have a big payoff.

Holmes has not just drafted with his eyes on the future; his free agency has been the same. He has signed every outside free agent to just a one-year deal. This may seem like an orthodox move, but this gives the Lions increased flexibility. After having no cap space the past two years, the Lions will have the 10th most cap space and don’t have any large contracts weighing them down. This flexibility will allow them to resign draft picks, acquire big-ticket-free agents, or find other ways.

This Lions’ turnaround could be one for the ages, and both Campbell and Holmes will admit it has been a group effort. Holmes has revamped this roster keeping only a handful of players from the previous regime. How he has replaced them is incredibly impressive. Holmes has replaced them with talented players from free agency and the draft without mortgaging the future of the team. The Lions are set up incredibly well for the present and future thanks to Brad Holmes, and I can’t imagine a GM doing a better job than him.


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