By: Tom Millikan
With the Tigers being postponed Tuesday night, many of you probably watched ESPN’s 30 for 30 Elway to Marino. The documentary recapped the 1983 NFL Draft where six quarterbacks were taken in the first round. Those quarterbacks were John Elway, Dan Marino, Todd Blackledge, Ken O’Brien, Tony Eason and Jim Kelly. Elway played in five Super Bowls, Kelly in four, and Marino & Eason in one each – 11 AFC Super Bowl appearances over a 15-year span. Now that’s what you call an impact draft.
Elway to Marino also had a darker side, at least for us Lions fans. It showed what we’ve all known for years – The Detroit Lions routinely draft the wrong guy. 30 for 30 brought back nightmares of taking FULLBACK James Jones at #13 in round one of the 1983 NFL Draft. One pick later, the Buffalo Bills selected Jim Kelly. The Lions had their QB (Hipple or Danielson) so they decided to utilize the pick on the innovative FULLBACK position. James Jones played his last game in 1992. Jim Kelly was in the midst of a four-year Super Bowl run during the early 90s.
So Jones and Kelly made me wonder just how many times the pick after the Lions first pick was the right pick. More times than not it was and I believe it’s the single biggest reason for the Lions constant malaise. They can’t draft.
Ladies & gentlemen I present to you 30 for 30 Jones to Reiff.
1983 – 13th pick Lions select FB James Jones; 14th pick Bills select QB Jim Kelly. The Bills QB went on to four Super Bowls and is in the Hall of Fame. Epic Fail
1984 – 20th pick Lions select TE David Lewis; 21st pick Chiefs select OL John Alt. Lewis’ career ended in 1987. Alt played 12 years, one as an All Pro. This is like the first installment of Pettigrew/Oher. Loss
1985 – 6th pick Lions select OL Lomas Brown; 7th pick Packers select OL Ken Reuttgers. Brown was a perennial Pro Bowler and borderline Hall of Famer; Reuttgers was a solid 10+year vet. Win
1986 – 12th pick Lions select QB Chuck Long; 13th pick Chargers select OL James Fitzpatrick. Both careers ended in 1991. Long may have been a more lasting impact because drafting a bad QB high can cripple your franchise. Too bad they didn’t draft Kelly in 1983. And thus the compounding of bad decisions begins. Loss
1987 – 7th pick Lions select DE Reggie Rogers; 8th pick Bills select LB Shane Conlan. Oh boy. Rogers is one of the all-time fails for the Lions as a player and as a person. He only played six games in his rookie year. In Rogers’ 2nd season he broke his neck in a car accident where he killed three teenagers. Rogers blew a .15 BAC and was found guilty on vehicular manslaughter charges. Conlan went on to be a solid 9-year career on the Bills’ Super Bowl teams. Epic Fail
The Good (except for 1993)
1988 – 3rd pick Lions select DB Bennie Blades; 4th pick Buccaneers select OL Paul Gruber. Blades played until 1997 making one Pro Bowl. Gruber played until 1999 making several All Pro teams. Both played in NFC Championship Games. Both were known as leaders. Tie
1989 – 3rd pick Lions select RB Barry Sanders; 4th pick Chiefs select Derrick Thomas. Sanders is arguably the greatest RB ever. He is the last Lion inducted in the Hall of Fame. Thomas is arguably one of the greatest LBs ever. He still holds the NFL record for seven sacks in one game. Two great players from a draft that had four Hall of Famers in the Top 5. No Detroiter can say Thomas can they? Win
1990 – 7th pick Lions select QB Andre Ware; 8th pick Patriots select LB Chris Singleton. Ware was a disaster and a distraction for the 90s glory years of Detroit Lions football. Like Chuck Long, Ware started when he shouldn’t because of money. That compounds the problem down the years. When you miss on a QB it has a lasting effect. Singleton was a bad pick, but he’s only a LB. Loss
1991 – 10th pick Lions select WR Herman Moore; 11th pick Patriots select OL Pat Harlow. Moore made four Pro Bowls. Harlow had little impact. Win
1992 – 26th pick Lions select DE Robert Porcher; 27th pick Bills select OL John Fina. Porcher made three Pro Bowls. Fina was a solid 10-year vet. Win
1993 – 8th pick Lions trade to New Orleans for LB Pat Swilling. The Lions were in desperate need of a pass rusher so they traded their pick. The Saints used that pick to select OL Willie Roaf who went to be a perennial Pro Bowl. Roaf went on to be a first ballot Hall of Famer while Swilling has become known as one of the worst trades in Detroit sports history. Epic Fail
1994 – 21st pick Lions select WR Johnnie Morton; 22nd pick Raiders select LB Rob Fredrickson. Morton had a slightly better career, but the Lions drafted a #3 WR with a first round pick. Imagine if the Lions drafted Roaf and selected Fredrickson. Once again they compound their problems and chase their own tail. Tie
1995 – 20th pick Lions select DT Luther Ellis; 21st pick Bears select RB Rashaan Salaam. Ellis was a solid NFL player. Salaam was a Heisman bust. Considering the Lions history it’s surprising they didn’t take Salaam. Win
1996 – 17th pick Lions select LB Reggie Brown; 18th pick Rams select WR Eddie Kennison. The Lions got some bad luck on this one. Brown suffered a career-ending neck injury in his second season. Brown had the look of being a promising player. Kennison was nothing special. Solid WR with special teams skills. His longevity gives him the edge and that’s not Brown’s. Loss
1997 – 5th pick Lions select DB Bryant Westbrook; 6th pick Seahawks select OL Walter Jones. Westbrook was out of football in 2002. Jones made nine Pro Bowls and could be in the Hall of Fame some day. Imagine Roaf and Jones on the ends of the OL. Epic Fail
1998 – 20th pick Lions select DB Terry Fair; 21st pick Vikings select WR Randy Moss. Fair flamed out by 2005. Moss went on to be arguably the second greatest WR ever behind Jerry Rice. Epic Fail
1999 – 9th pick Lions select LB Chris Claiborne; 10th pick Ravens select DB Chris McAlister. Of course the Lions don’t take a DB for the third straight years. Two bad picks compromised this pick. Claiborne was out of the NFL by 2006. McAlister made three Pro Bowls and had an interception in the Ravens’ Super Bowl 35 win over the Giants. Loss
2000 – 20th pick Lions select OL Stockar McDougle; 21st pick Chiefs select WR Sylvester Morris. McDougle was a bad pick, but Morris played only one year. Saying McDougle was a win is a stretch, but he was the better pick. Tiny Win
2001 – 18th pick Lions select OL Jeff Backus; 19th pick Steelers select DT Casey Hampton. This is a tough one. Backus had a solid career, but Hampton did too… and he won two Super Bowls. Hampton also made five Pro Bowls. Loss
2002 – 3rd pick Lions select QB Joey Harrington; 4th pick Bills select DT Mike Williams. Neither pick was good, but the Lions missing on a QB again compounded their issues. Joey also brought dysfunction into the organization. Loss
2003 – 2nd pick Lions select WR Charles Rogers; 3rd pick Texans select WR Andre Johnson. Utter failure. Some draft pundits say they told the Lions Rogers should not be drafted by the hometown team. Johnson is at six Pro Bowls and counting. Rogers is at six court appearances and counting. Epic Fail
2004 – 7th pick Lions select WR Roy Williams; 6th pick Browns select TE Kellen Winslow Jr; 8th pick Falcons select DB DeAngelo Hall. The Browns and Lions swapped pick. Williams and Winslow each made a Pro Bowl. Both are not with teams right now. Hall is still in the league proving to be an above average DB. Loss
2005 – 10th pick Lions select WR Mike Williams; 11th pick Cowboys select DE DeMarcus Ware. Ahhhh Big Fat Mike Williams. Let’s draft a WR for the third straight year over a 7-time Pro Bowler. It appears Ware is Canton bound. Epic Fail
2006 – 9th pick Lions select LB Ernie Sims; 10th pick Cardinals select QB Matt Leinart. Both picks were awful, but at least the Lions didn’t get stuck trying to force start an overpaid young QB. Win (unless drafting Leinart means signing Kurt Warner)
2007 – 2nd pick Lions select WR Calvin Johnson; 3rd pick Browns select OL Joe Thomas. Both are great players. Megatron gets the slight edge here. A) He has a nickname B) he broke one of Jerry Rice’s records C) he has appeared in a playoff game… Joe Thomas hasn’t. Win
2008 – 17th pick Lions select OL Gosder Cherilus; 18th pick Ravens select QB Joe Flacco. Cherilus just left for Indy as a mediocre guard. Flacco just became the highest paid player in the NFL. Imagine if the Lions took a great deep ball thrower to pair with Megatron. Loss
2009 – 1st pick Lions select QB Matthew Stafford; 2nd pick Rams select OL Jason Smith. Stafford wins by a landslide. This was a very easy pick for the Lions to make. The big question is whether or not Stafford is the 2011 version of Stafford or the 2012 version of Stafford. Win
2010 – 2nd pick Lions select DT Ndamukong Suh; 3rd pick Buccaneers select DT Gerald McCoy. Suh has done more so far, but this one may turn out closer than some think. McCoy has shown signs of brilliance. If Suh plays to his potential it’s a no-brainer. If being the key word. Win
2011 – 13th pick Lions select DT Nick Fairley; 14th pick Rams select DE Robert Quinn. Maybe too early to call on this one. Quinn has more sacks, but that is typical of a DE vs. DT. Quinn may be a better fit on the Lions with Suh. Fairley appears to have the more raw talent. Tie
***It’s too early to tell about 2013. The Lions’ 23rd pick Riley Reiff did very little in his rookie campaign. The Patriots pick of David DeCastro at #24 did no better.