Back in 2014, Da’Shawn Hand was considered the number one high school recruit in the country, ahead of guys like Myles Garrett, Leonard Fournette and Deshaun Watson.
While all three of those players went on to have stat-popping college careers that resulted in first-round NFL Draft selections, Hand’s experience was a little different.
Alabama’s depth along their defensive line forced Hand into more of a reserve role his first two seasons in Tuscaloosa in 2015 and 2016. Hand finally got a chance to start last season, and won his second national title (Alabama also won in 2015 when he was a freshman reserve), recording 27 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and three sacks.
Those aren’t eye-popping statistics, but it’s the athleticism and versatility that NFL decision makers like Lions GM Bob Quinn and head coach Matt Patricia liked about Hand.
The Lions drafted Hand in the fourth round, moving up to do so, and giving up a third-round pick in next year’s draft in the process.
“I think he has a great ceiling,” Quinn said after drafting Hand. “He brings a rare combination of size, length, athleticism. He’s a really, thickly-built guy.
“The position versatility, the playing strength, the technique, all of those things that we look for really stood out. And yeah, he was a very high recruit coming out and he maybe didn’t live up to all those expectations, but that does not mean he’s not a good player.”
That’s what Hand is out to prove as well.
“All that stuff is past experiences,” Hand said after a recent minicamp practice. “That’s all irrelevant. Right now I’m just worried about getting better as a pro.”
Hand comes to Detroit knowing defensive line coach Bo Davis from their time in Alabama together. He has a good grasp of the scheme and techniques required within it, and has the ability to play anywhere from the seven technique to nose tackle, which gives the Lions a lot of options with him.
The great thing about the NFL is that is that it doesn’t matter how a player gets here – first round, second round, fourth round or as an undrafted free agent. Everyone gets a clean slate, and Hand is hoping to make the most of his in Detroit.