Examining new Detroit Lions GM Brad Holmes approach to evaluating players

Erik Schlitt
·5 min read

The Detroit Lions have hired Brad Holmes, former Los Angeles Rams’ director of college scouting, to be their next general manager. Just 41 years old, Holmes is one of the youngest GMs in the NFL and has reportedly agreed to a five-year deal.

Holmes’ 16-year rise through the Rams’organization has been an interesting journey and has influenced his philosophies on scouting and evaluating players when building a roster.

Eric Edholm interviewed Holmes in 2019 and published the interview for Yahoo Sports. In it, Homles discusses his background and why he got into scouting, which I have reorganized and summarized for easier consumption, as well as added my own commentary.

Holmes played football at North Carolina A&T, but his football knowledge dates back further than his college days. Holmes’ father, Mel, played for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and his uncle Luther Bradley was a first-round pick of the Lions in 1978.

After college, Holmes joined the Rams’ public relations department as a way of breaking into the NFL, and would eventually take an intern position within the scouting department in 2004. After three years of working out of the office — and making runs to the airport — he got an opportunity to start scouting pro days in 2007, mainly collecting data on players.

Holmes’ work ethic and a keen eye for talent would accelerate his career from there.

“The only reason I’ve gotten to this point in my career now is that I’ve only concentrated on being the best I can be in my role,” Holmes told Edholm. “Whatever that role is at that time. So I was a scouting assistant, and I tried to be the best scouting assistant. I want to get the coffee the fastest, I want to make the best profile tape possible, and all of that. When I was an area scout, I wanted to be the best at that. You know what I mean? So I never really looked ahead. Opportunities — all of them blessings — have landed on me, and I’ve just kind of earned my way to where I am now.”

Over the last 16 years, Holmes has gained a reputation as being one of the brighter minds in the NFL, and one of the top influencers for Rams’ general manager Les Snead.

Former NFL running back Wilbert Montgomery got a chance to work with Holmes as running backs coach with the Rams’ and recently told the Free press’ Dave Birkett that Holmes reminded him of his childhood friend and legendary Ravens’ GM, Ozzie Newsome. That’s awfully high praise.

Holmes is also credited with leading the charge for the Rams to draft All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald when several other teams were downgrading him due to his size. Vincent Bonsignore of The Athletic ($), detailed how Holmes went the extra mile to do a thorough scouting evaluation of Donald, despite being the director of college scouting.

Donald is as physically gifted as any player in the NFL, if not more, but at only 6-0 3/4″, his height was a major red flag amongst the analytics community.

“I am so much focused on the intangible traits way more so than the physical traits,” Holmes to Edholm. “Now I am like, ‘OK, yeah, he’s fast, but does he work hard?’ You know? I just don’t care about that stuff quite as much. Of course, I care about it. But I’ve learned so much as to why a player is or isn’t successful in this league. It falls so much on the intangibles more than the physical.”

Donald wasn’t the only player where Holmes illustrated his ability to identify non-physical traits.

“Take someone like (Rams safety) John Johnson. His instincts just stood out so much. He’s just turned into a heck of a run supporter. He’s just been terrific. But I remember during his evaluation process, it wasn’t really … I mean, he’s a good-sized kid, but you know, he didn’t run the fastest. I remember watching him live and then again at his Senior Bowl, it’s not like he was picking off a bunch of balls — and he might have had six picks or something in his [college] career. But he was just cutting off so many routes. He just instinctively knew the angles to take. So I look at him now — I remember that first start he had against Seattle and his picks that ball off on the sideline and I am just like, yep, that’s what you saw.”

Johnson will be a potential free agent this offseason and was the one Rams player that I identified that the Lions should be watching — now more than ever — in last weekend’s Wild Card Playoff games.

While Holmes puts a high value on non-physical intangibles, he’s not going to dismiss the value of analytics.

“‘Why would you turn down extra information? Why would you ignore data?’ Especially stuff that you can use to help guide you and make a better decision. As scouts, we’re looking for the best information, the best sources to talk to, the best game to watch to get to know the player and evaluate him properly. The analytics, they’re nothing but help toward that end. And I think that’s been the biggest (evolution to scouting methods) I’ve seen since starting.”

At the end of the day, Holmes is poised to lean on the evaluation skills that got him to where he is today, and a player’s intangibles will drive decision making, but he has also shown a willingness to adapt to new ideas in the ever-changing scouting world.

“You start with the heart and you put it with the physical abilities, and you see it all come together in your evaluation.”

OddsMoney LinePoint SpreadTotal Points
LA Rams
+260+6.5O 45.5
Green Bay
-323-6.5U 45.5