In a bad season, Lions' rookies offer glimpse of real hope

Fourth-round pick Da'Shawn Hand emerged as a force on the interior of the defensive line. Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports

Bob Quinn went into the 2018 draft with a clear purpose: revamp the Detroit Lions' abysmal run game. He focused almost all of the team's draft capital on fixing that with two offensive linemen, a running back and a fullback among his haul of players.

For the most part, it worked. Detroit's run game was better -- it was also more of an emphasis -- and a large part of that had to do with the rookies Quinn brought in.

Grade: Above average

Best rookie: This is actually a tough decision since guard Frank Ragnow (first round) and running back Kerryon Johnson (second round) were standouts at their positions. But the best rookie Detroit had was one of two defensive picks in the draft: lineman Da'Shawn Hand. The fourth-round pick made Pro Football Focus' All-Rookie team and was the analytical service's top rookie interior lineman -- 13 points higher than first-round pick Vita Vea. In 13 games, Hand had 27 tackles with three sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. He was a pain for opposing defenses in the middle, and considering his draft position, might end up being a total steal for the Lions.

Most improved rookie: Safety Tracy Walker was an unknown taken in the third round by the Lions out of Louisiana. Even he was surprised with how high Detroit chose him. Playing behind veteran Glover Quin kept him from ascending to a starting role as a rookie, but by the end of the season, Walker was getting more and more work and playing better by the week. He didn't play enough snaps to qualify among leaders, but his total PFF grade of 89.8 was good. He had 14 tackles and an interception in 246 snaps -- and could be primed to take over Quin's spot in 2019 if the veteran decides to retire or the team chooses to move on. Ragnow was also a consideration here.

Jury is still out on ...: The easy answer here is fullback Nick Bawden, who suffered a torn ACL during spring workouts and missed the entire season. Bawden, the seventh-rounder from San Diego State, was one of the draft's top fullbacks and could be a replacement for do-it-all Nick Bellore. But it's tough to really know. The other player is offensive lineman Tyrell Crosby. In limited work replacing Rick Wagner, Crosby held up well, but it's tough to know what he can become in his small sample size. If the Lions believe in him, though, he could end up being a starter on the line sooner than later.

Undrafted rookie evaluation: Mike Ford, a cornerback from Southeast Missouri, began the year on the practice squad and ended up starting four games and making 24 tackles. Opposing quarterbacks often picked on him when he was thrown into the lineup, but considering he was matched up opposite Darius Slay with Nevin Lawson in the slot, he was always going to get a lot of attention. Receiver Brandon Powell, from Florida, made the roster out of training camp but didn't get much work until the season finale, when he had six catches for 103 yards. It was his most productive game and the first sign that he could be a legitimate option as a slot receiver in 2019 and beyond.