Detroit Lions: Grades and Awards for the Last Five NFL Drafts

Dean Holden@@Dean_HoldenAnalyst IJanuary 22, 2012

Detroit Lions: Grades and Awards for the Last Five NFL Drafts

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    They say it takes three years to accurately grade an NFL draft. Incidentally, it has been three years since Martin Mayhew's first draft as general manager of the Detroit Lions. It seems like a good time to begin evaluating Mayhew's prowess at one of his most important jobs: drafting good football players.

    I could grade the Detroit Lions' 2009 draft, but you readers deserve more than that. So instead, I bring you the Lions' last five drafts, complete with overall grades, best and worst picks, best value and biggest disappointment.

    Pay particular attention to the 2007/2008 drafts and the 2009 draft. The difference between a Matt Millen draft and a Martin Mayhew draft is staggering.

    And I'm more than willing to bring to light any factual basis for appreciating Martin Mayhew's fantastic work for the Detroit Lions, so here we go.

2007 Draft: The Year of Megatron

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    Number of Picks: Eight

    Number of Picks on Lions' 2011 Active Roster: Two (Calvin Johnson, Drew Stanton)


    Best Pick: Calvin "Megatron" Johnson, WR (First round, second overall)

    Can you imagine the 2011 Detroit Lions without Calvin Johnson? If you can't, don't try. It actually hurts a little.

    Megatron has been, all things considered, the best thing to happen to the Detroit Lions offense since Barry Sanders (yeah, I said it), and even though he wasn't exactly a steal or a value pick at second overall, consider who drafted him.

    Johnson was considered the "can't miss" prospect of the decade, but if there was one person who was going to miss on him, it was either Matt Millen or Al Davis. Thank goodness it was the latter.


    Worst Pick: Ikaika Alama-Francis, DE/DT/OLB (Second round, 58th overall)

    To Alama-Francis' credit, he has caught on with the Miami Dolphins and is actually making a living playing professional football, perhaps because he's now at a linebacker position when he was drafted to be a lineman.

    But for the Lions, all he did is hang around for a couple of seasons, go 0-16 and get cut by Jim Schwartz. Maybe that means this was more a Rod Marinelli bust than a Matt Millen bust, but he still wasn't any good, and he was a late second-round pick.

    The worst part? Millen traded up to get Alama-Francis.


    Best Value Pick: Ramzee Robinson, CB (Mr. Irrelevant)

    Ramzee Robinson's career highlights are as follows:

    • Mr. Irrelevant (2007)

    Ouch. That makes a guy feel good inside. So yeah, Millen's "value" picks are relative things. But consider that Robinson is a former Mr. Irrelevant, and five years later, he's still in the league.

    The guy even got reps on the Lions defense for the two years he was in Detroit. Granted, it was while the Lions were posting one of the worst defenses in league history, but if you get anything out of a Mr. Irrelevant, it's a good pick.

    Robinson isn't slated for stardom, but he's still in the league and that counts for something at pick No. 255.


    Biggest Disappointment: Drew Stanton, QB (Second round, 43rd overall)

    Hey, Stanton has been solid as a backup and emergency starter in five years with the Lions.

    Of course, the same could be said of Tyler Thigpen, who was drafted five rounds later.

    We could go around all day and talk about which of them is better, but it's irrelevant and there's no point in debating semantics. The reality is that neither is better than an average backup quarterback. If either one is running your team, you have issues.

    And, well, when you draft a quarterback in the second round, you should just expect better than that.


    Overall Grade: D

    Calvin Johnson saves what was otherwise a typically abysmal draft from being a straight F. Millen struck gold on Johnson and got about fourth-or fifth-round value with his second pick (Stanton), then missed wildly on the rest.

    Case and point: When's the last time you heard the name Gerald Alexander?

2008 Draft: The End of an Era

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    Number of Picks: Nine

    Number of Picks on Lions' 2011 Active Roster: Four (Gosder Cherilus, Andre Fluellen, Cliff Avril, Kevin Smith)


    Best Pick: Cliff Avril, DE (Third Round, 92nd overall)

    This the only time Millen was able to pull a starting-quality player out of any round after the third, but he ended up with a franchise-level pass-rusher.

    If you don't believe me, watch the contract he gets in a few months.

    Avril has had ups and downs, and has admittedly been helped along by the Lions' recent upgrades to the interior defensive line. But he's a really good football player, and Matt Millen drafted him in the third round.

    See if you can say that about anyone else.


    Worst Pick: Jordon Dizon, LB (Second Round, 45th overall)

    A great deal of Dizon's failings don't have to do with Dizon himself. He was drafted for the Tampa-Two the season before that scheme got thrown out with the regime it came in with.

    That was the beginning of the end for Dizon, who was already too small for a linebacker even before Jim Schwartz came in with the intention of making every position bigger and stronger.

    But Dizon impressed with his work ethic, drawing praise from defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham and linebackers coach Matt Burke.

    And then he shredded his knee in three places, and that was it. Another second-round pick for naught.


    Best Value: Avril

    It's not even close. Only Jerome Felton had an impact on the team after being drafted, and if you want to tell me Felton was a better fifth-round pick than Avril was a third-round pick, be my guest, but you're wrong.

    Let me wrap up this argument right here and now. The guy behind Avril on the depth chart, Lawrence Jackson, was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks 28th overall the same year.


    Biggest Disappointment: Gosder Cherilus, OT (First round, 18th overall)

    It's not so much that Cherilus is bad. The jury is still out, to an extent.

    Although, for a first-round pick from four years ago, that might be reason enough to call him a disappointment.

    But the disappointing thing is not Cherilus himself, but who Cherilus isn't. He isn't Mike Jenkins. He isn't Jordy Nelson. He isn't Tracy Porter. He isn't Matt Forte or Chris Johnson or Rashard Mendenhall.

    And he could have been, since those are all players drafted between Detroit's selection of Cherilus and their selection of Jordon Dizon.


    Overall Grade: C

    It's easy to look at the big picture and fool yourself into thinking this was a great draft for the Lions.

    But like the one before it, this draft produced only one true "impact" player (Avril). It gets a higher grade for producing another starter (Cherilus) and a few solid role players (Smith, Fluellen, Felton), but it's still no better than just "okay."

2009 Draft: A New Hope

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    Number of Picks: 10

    Number of Picks on Lions' 2011 Active Roster: Six (Matthew Stafford, Brandon Pettigrew, Louis Delmas, DeAndre Levy, Sammie Lee Hill, Aaron Brown), Seven if you count Alphonso Smith, acquired for seventh-round pick Dan Gronkowski


    Best Pick: Matthew Stafford, QB (First Overall)

    It may not seem all that impressive to hit on a top pick. But we only think that now because Martin Mayhew made the pick.

    Two years earlier, the Oakland Raiders drafted JaMarcus Russell, and four picks later, the Jets traded up for Mark Sanchez. Nobody should know better than Lions fans that high first-round picks can't be taken for granted.

    Besides, Mayhew basically had to spit in the face of half the fanbase to get Stafford. It was far from a consensus pick (like Calvin Johnson), so let's not act like Mayhew wasn't taking a risk here.

    Also, if you want to talk about the difference a year makes, a year ago, people were wondering if Stafford would ever go a season healthy. Now he's the fourth quarterback in NFL history to throw for over 5,000 yards in a season, and people are outraged he's not going to the Pro Bowl.


    Worst Pick: Derrick Williams, WR (Third round, 82nd overall)

    I'm going to lavish lots of praise on Mayhew through the next few slides, but let me step away from that here and point out that yes, Mayhew can make mistakes.

    Derrick Williams was drafted in the third round to be a wide receiver and/or kick returner. He excelled at neither, and was cut after two years of lackluster performance.

    Williams busting is part of the biggest disappointment of this draft, which will be discussed shortly.


    Best Value Pick: Sammie Lee Hill, DT (Fourth round, 115th overall)

    This is what a value pick is supposed to look like.

    The idea behind Hill's selection was as follows: "He has a huge body, and comes from a lower-tier school, which means he's raw in terms of coaching. We can take his physical skills, coach him up and come out with a fine football player."

    Hill has been among the Lions' most improved players each year since his rookie season. Which means he's exactly who the Lions expected him to be.

    Hill is good enough now to start for most 4-3 teams, but the Lions have him exactly where they want him: providing maximum impact in minimum snaps.


    Biggest Disappointment: Not Getting More out of the Roy Williams Trade

    Martin Mayhew popped some eyes open when he took over the team in 2008 and promptly turned over starting wide receiver Roy Williams for a first, third and sixth-round pick.

    But then the draft happened, and the Lions turned those picks into Brandon Pettigrew, Derrick Williams and Aaron Brown.

    Pettigrew is rounding into one of the most complete tight ends in the league, but Williams was a bust, and Brown is irrelevant (though he did crack the active roster for about a month in 2011).

    Since the trade, Williams has been consigned to irrelevance, so the Lions still "won" the trade because of Pettigrew. But it's hard to look at three draft picks and realize one good player is all the Lions got out of the deal.


    Overall Grade: B

    Stafford's 2011 season brings this grade up about a full letter.

    Pettigrew looks great.

    Delmas and Levy are inconsistent, but after three years, they're starting and nobody is clamoring to replace them.

    Sammie Hill has been a pleasant surprise.

    Derrick Williams and Aaron Brown are the only true busts of the draft.

    The Lions actually had a decent seventh round, even though none of the players are still on the team. Zack Follett was a fan favorite until he had to retire with a neck/spinal injury, Lydon Murtha was claimed off the practice squad by the Miami Dolphins, and Dan Gronkowski was turned over to the Denver Broncos for Alphonso Smith.

2010 Draft: From "Boo" to "Suh"

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    Number of Picks: Six

    Number of Picks on Lions' 2011 Active Roster: Four (Ndamukong Suh, Jahvid Best, Amari Spievey, Willie Young)


    Best Pick: Ndamukong Suh, DT (First Round, Second overall)

    For the second year in a row, the Lions' best pick is their first one. Imagine that.

    Suh has had a bit of a rough sophomore season, but we're getting into the drafts that are a little too early to tell now, and considering his rookie season, it's perfectly reasonable to consider him the best Lions pick in this draft at this point.

    By all accounts, Suh is still a strong, hardworking player, he just made a different kind of splash in his second season than he did in his first: the wrong kind.

    Still, I fully expect Suh's struggles to be a footnote by the end of his third season.


    Worst Pick: Jahvid Best, RB (First Round, 30th overall)

    Whoa, whoa, calm down there. I know the guy has been hurt. And I know I've been chastising people for giving up on Matthew Stafford after two injury-plagued seasons.

    But there are two key differences. Stafford didn't have injury red flags coming out of college. And Jahvid hasn't yet proven the injury concerns wrong like Stafford did this season. In fact, he has made his existing injury concerns worse with more concussions as a pro.

    Can he prove the doubters wrong next year? Of course. Injuries can be a pretty fickle and random thing sometimes, so if Best goes a season healthy, all the injury talk goes out the window. And he's not the "worst pick" because he can't play well and stay healthy, it's because he hasn't yet.

    Like I said, much of the 2010 draft is still too soon to call.


    Best Value Pick: Willie Young, DE (Seventh Round, 213th overall)

    Young played sparingly for the Lions in 2011 as a situational pass-rusher, getting only a handful of snaps in 14 games.

    And he still managed to notch three sacks in the regular season, and a sack-fumble on Drew Brees in the playoffs.

    And he's only a seventh-round pick coming off his second season. Because he's listed as a lanky (for a defensive lineman) 6' 5", 251 pounds, he'll never be a dominant run-stopper. But his speed and agility are the stuff dominant edge rushers (I'm thinking Dwight Freeney) are made of.

    It will be interesting to see how much Young develops over the next couple of seasons, especially in the Lions' "get to the QB above all else" scheme. He's already a solid role player, but he could become far, far more.


    Biggest Disappointment: Jason Fox (Fourth Round, 128th overall)

    Really, this pick and the Jahvid Best pick could flip-flop. Neither is a bust (yet), but both are disappointing on account of spending a disproportionate amount of time on the inactive list.

    Fox has effectively been strength training for two years. In 2010, he spent most of the year basically getting up to a good NFL weight, only playing in limited action late. In 2011, he might have played some, but he was one of many who mysteriously suffered the exact same foot injury in training camp.

    So after two years, the Lions have a fourth-round pick whose capabilities are almost a complete unknown. If this were a Matt Millen draft, he would just have been cut and nobody would ever have heard from him again.

    But this was a Mayhew draft, which means Fox may actually be a good football player. He just has to keep himself healthy long enough for us to find out.


    Overall Grade: B+

    Suh is great when playing within himself, Best is great when healthy and Spievey is still a project with much to learn (but already starting quality).

    Young was a steal in the seventh, Fox is an unknown and "Mr. Irrelevant." Tim Toone, is, well, irrelevant.

    This draft still needs another season or two to simmer, but everybody excepts Toone is still with the team and brimming with potential. The only thing holding the grade back is uncertainty about injuries (Best, Fox) and consistency (Suh, Spievey, Young), because everybody has shown flashes of greatness, given the opportunity.

2011 Draft: Best Player Available

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    Number of Picks: Five

    Number of Picks on Lions' 2011 Active Roster: Three (Nick Fairley, Titus Young, Doug Hogue)


    Best Pick: Titus Young, WR (Second Round, 44th overall)

    "Best Pick," at this point, really only refers to the best rookie season. And at this point, that has to be Titus Young, though I don't expect that to continue being the case.

    Making any long-term determinations on this draft are going to be full of folly, especially for a group as ravaged by injury as this one was. So Young sort of gets this by default, just for having a complete, productive rookie season.


    Worst Pick: Mikel Leshoure, RB (Second Round, 57th overall)

    Let me be absolutely clear about this: I do not think Mikel Leshoure was a bad draft pick. But again, I'm attempting to make determinations about this draft based on very limited hindsight.

    And after one season, if you want to talk about the worst pick, it has to be the guy the Lions traded up for who never took a single snap, even in the preseason.

    It doesn't make Leshoure a bust, obviously. Players like Leshoure (and Stafford, probably Best, Fox and so on), are why they say you need three years to properly evaluate a draft. But based on the limited data we have, Leshoure is the worst pick of this draft so far.

    He cost the Lions the most, and has produced nothing to this point.


    Best Value Pick: Doug Hogue, LB (Fifth Round, 157th overall)

    Quietly, Doug Hogue played 13 games for the Lions this season as a solid special teamer, and he still has the physical skills to play linebacker with a little more development.

    More importantly, he was one of only two players in this draft to play consistently this season, so he sort of ends up as one of the best picks by default.

    I like his upside, but I also like that he plays. At this point, there's little else to go on.


    Biggest Disappointment: All the Injuries

    Leshoure and Johnny Culbreath never saw the field, Nick Fairley spent the entire year hobbled with a foot injury that he kept re-aggravating—even Young pulled a hamstring in training camp.

    There's absolutely no reason to sell any of these players off already, but it's disappointing that after all the momentum and positivity that came out of the draft, only two players got consistent play time, and the others (including a first and second-round pick), are still largely unknown in terms of their capabilities.


    Overall Grade: Incomplete

    There really is no way to make any real determinations about this draft. Five picks is a small number to begin with, and they really only got about two-and-a-half picks' worth of production out of them.

    Young looks great, and he got visibly better as the season went on. Hogue is still extremely raw (but physically talented), Fairley and Leshoure have their first true tests next year, and Culbreath is a complete unknown.

    Each and every one of these picks has great potential, so in that sense, it was a successful draft. But there is no way to tell at this point who will and won't live up to it and to what extent.