The Lions have picked inside the top five 13 times since 1956. Mattew Stafford, Calvin Johnson, Joey Harrington and Charles Rogers have been some of the picks in the top 5.
Here is a list of the Lions top 5 picks from now back through 1956:
2013, No. 5 – BYU DE Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah
He ended up going fifth overall despite entering with only 4.5 sacks in 31 games at BYU. It turned out scouts were onto something as Ansah racked up 30 sacks in his first 46 career NFL games.
His career in Detroit ended with 48 sacks and one Pro Bowl nod. He suited up in two playoff games along the way, picking up three sacks in those appearances.
2010, No. 2 – Nebraska DT Ndamukong Suh
He picked up five Pro Bowl and three All-Pro nods while with the Lions. The 2010 defensive rookie of the year also made the NFL’s All-Decade team for his troubles. Suh registered 36 sacks, 66 tackles for loss and 98 quarterback hits in five seasons in Detroit. He still hasn’t missed a game for an injury-related concern, cementing him as one of the league’s iron men heading into the next decade. He’s played for three teams in as many years, but remains a more than capable defender. He racked up 2.5 sacks in two playoff games with the team.
2009, No. 1 – Georgia QB Matthew Stafford
The Lions went 0-16 the season before Stafford arrived. Three years later, the team went 10-6 and made the playoffs. Stafford hasn’t won a playoff game or division title, but the Lions have three postseason appearances since, arguably, the worst NFL season of all time. He’s already Detroit’s all-time leader in completions, attempts, yards, touchdowns, fourth-quarter comebacks, game-winning drives and wins. He checked off another milestone last year, becoming the fastest quarterback in league history to reach 40,000 yards. Stafford also won the comeback player of the year award in 2011 and has one Pro Bowl nod to his name.
2007, No. 2 – Georgia Tech WR Calvin Johnson
Johnson is the second top-five pick featured on this list to make the league’s all-decade team for the 2010s. Johnson joined the franchise at a brutal time, going 9-39 through his first three seasons but hit another level when Stafford came into the fold.
Johnson caught 731 passes for 11,619 yards and 83 touchdowns before his surprise retirement following the 2015 campaign. He made six Pro Bowls and was named an All-Pro three times during his career. Johnson’s dominance is best explained when looking at the 2011 and 2012 seasons. He combined to catch 218 passes for 3,645 yards and 21 touchdowns over those years. He played in all 32 games, averaging 113.9 yards each time he stepped on the field. In two career playoff appearances, Johnson turned in solid outings with 17 catches for 296 yards and two touchdowns.
2003, No. 2 – Michigan State WR Charles Rogers
Rogers, 38, died in late 2019 due to complications from cancer and liver disease. He shattered records at Michigan State, catching 132 passes for 2,821 yards and 21 touchdowns in just 24 games. Rogers was limited to 15 games across three seasons with the Lions. He finished his career with 36 catches for 440 yards and four touchdowns.
2002, No. 3 – Oregon QB Joey Harrington
He led the league with 22 interceptions in his first season as a full-time starter. In 55 starts with the Lions, he tossed 60 touchdowns to 62 interceptions. Harrington’s best season came in 2004 when he threw for more than 3,000 yards with 19 touchdowns to 12 interceptions.
1997, No. 5 – Texas CB Bryant Westbrook
Westbrook started strong with an all-rookie nod and leading the league in picks in Year 4, but was out of the league by age 28 after an Achilles injury. He intercepted 12 passes in five seasons with the Lions.
1989, No. 3 – Oklahoma State RB Barry Sanders
Sanders never ran for less than 1,000 yards in any of his 10 NFL seasons. Sanders was so good he needed only 11 games to top 1,100 yards in 1993.
His trophy case: Heisman and MVP awards, not to mention 10 Pro Bowls, six All-Pro nods, two offensive player of the year awards and as a first-eligible Hall of Famer.
1988, No. 3 – Miami (Fla.) DB Bennie Blades
Blades played nine of his 10 seasons with the Lions, making one Pro Bowl and All-Pro team apiece. He eclipsed 100 tackles three times and reached at least 90 tackles in four other seasons. He made the playoffs three times while in Detroit, and was a vital part of the team that lost in the 1992 NFC Championship game.
1980, No. 1 – Oklahoma RB Billy Sims
Sims was limited to five seasons with the Lions but left his mark on the franchise and league. He ran for 1,303 yards and 13 touchdowns as a rookie. Sims finished with 5,106 yards and 42 touchdowns in 60 career games. He was the offensive rookie of the year and made three Pro Bowls in those five seasons.
1964, No. 5 – USC QB Pete Beathard
In 1964, Beathard was the AFL’s second overall pick and the NFL’s fifth overall pick out of USC. He chose to sign with the Kansas City Chiefs over the Lions for a reported $25,000.
1960, No. 3 – LSU DB/HB Johnny Robinson
Robinson is enshrined in the Hall of Fame thanks to his six All-Pro nods, seven Pro Bowls, three AFL Championships and one Super Bowl ring.
1956, No. 3 – Ohio St. RB Howard “Hopalong” Cassady
Cassady was part of the last team to win an NFL title in Detroit! He played seven seasons for the Lions, picking up 1,229 yards and six touchdowns. He also added 97 catches for 1,413 yards and 18 scores as a genuine all-around offensive threat back in the day.
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