To begin by answering my own question...yes.
It's hard to judge drafting capabilities after only one go around but if we compare Martin Mayhews first draft (2009) to most recent drafts by Matt Millen and Co. we see something that hasn't been there before, and that is raw talent with alot of promise.
The Millen Years (2001-2008)
First we must look at the last decade of lions drafting failures to show how bad it has really been here in motown. To keep the article somewhat short I will only mention players who somewhat contributed, turned out ok for other teams or were complete failures.
Millen's first year at the helm was arguably his best. Drafting servicable players such as Jeff Backus, Dominic Raiola and Shaun Rogers, two of which are still with the team and Rogers despite his well documented bad attitude and laziness was a very capable DT when he felt like being one and even made a pro bowl in 2004.
The 2002 draft is a different story and is where I believe the downfall begins. Millen blew the third overall selection on Joey Harrington who spent a lot of his time in Detroit on his back. Even when given the time to throw Harrington was quite ineffective and showed no poise or the leadership the team was hoping to get from him.
Andre Goodman selected in the third round developed into a nice corner but not before leaving Detroit and landing in Miami. The 2003 draft also brought us the Charles Rogers saga.
Rogers was a hometown favorite after his stellar career at Michigan State but with of the field issues and injuries in his first two season Rogers never developed into anything more than a major bust. Hard-hitting Boss Bailey was drafted in the second round, but he too also struggled with injuries and never turned into the defensive anchor the Lions hoped he would be.
Cory Redding was drafted in the next round and even with his mediocre play over the years the lions were able to get an aging but still effective Julian Peterson in a trade for Redding before the 2009 season.
In 2004 the Lions had two first round selections and an early second. Surely Millen could hit on one, right? At the seventh pick Roy Williams was selected.
In Williams' defense he is a solid receiver and battled with inconsistent quarterback play most of his career in Detroit (except for Jon Kitna's 2007 campaign) and when he was let go in 2008 his 262 rec, 3,884 yds, and 29 tds in four and a half years with the team tell us we can surely not label him a bad player, one who was just not worthy of that high of a selection.
With the second first rounder Kevin Jones was taken, and after showing promise in rushing for over 1,000 yards his rookie year he faced major injury problems and was later released. The third round Millen snatched up first team all-american linebacker and Butkus award winner Teddy Lehman who needless to say never lived up to his college success at Oklahoma and also had injury issues of his own.
The 2005 draft brought nothing with two members of USC's national championship team selected in the first two rounds. Mike Williams was overweight and hadn't played ball in a year but was still selected 10 overall and Shaun Cody who spent four years in Detroit totaling a pultry 61 tackles and 1.5 sacks in that time.
The 2006 draft gave us one of the few NFL caliber starters that Millen drafted. Ernie Sims may not have lived up to his ninth overall selection status but with his 420 tackles over four years he is, as you can see, one of Millen's better selections. Daniel Bullocks is an okay player but was chosen in the second round when he probably should have been a fifth or sixth rounder.
But in 2007...GRAND SLAM. Calvin "Megatron" Johnson is a freakish athlete at 6'5, 236 lbs he runs in the 4.3 range with great hands and a 45-inch vertical. Three years and 193 rec, 3,071 yds, and 21 tds later Johnson made Millen look like a genius.
Drew Stanton is still young but has struggled and as a Lions fan I can't help but have hope for him. Gerald Alexander was nothing more than an average player for Detroit and was shipped away in '09 for Dennis Northcutt.
The 2008 draft class needs to be given more time but the progress has been slow for first rounder Gosder Cherilus and second rounder Jordan Dizon. Kevin Smith has showed some promise but needs to stay healthy and for God's sake hit the holes harder and run north and south.
The Mayhew Years (2008-PRESENT)
Ah, the light at the end of the tunnel. As I said earlier it is too early to judge players from most recent draft classes as they need time to develop but I truly believe Mayhew and head coach Jim Schwartz have struck gold with this class.
First overall pick Matthew Stafford had injury issues playing behind a rotten offensive line, but showed the heart and determination (especially with a dislocated shoulder vs Cleveland) that this city will love him for.
He has a cannon for an arm and decent mobility. He made some bad decisions as all rookies do but didn't have the talent around him to compensate for it i.e Mark Sanchez, and with another year under his belt those mistakes will diminish.
Brandon Pettigrew may never put up receiving stats like Dallas Clark or Tony Gonzalez, but he has good hands and is a great blocker and should be Stafford's safety valve for years to come. He caught 23 balls for 262 yards and 1 score, but started slow and picked it up later in the season before a torn ACL ended his progress.
Louis Delmas taken at No. 33 overall is a stud. Named to the all-rookie first team he is the only rookie to ever record an interception and fumble recovery for a touchdown and a safety. He is a fiery leader and can also bring an intimidation factor to a Lions defense that needs it.
DeAndre Levy filled in nicely with injuries to Ernie Sims and played very well in part time duty. He is being groomed as the OLB for the future. Samie Lee Hill was a surprise selection coming out of small Stillman college but at 6'4 326 lbs he is just what Jim Schwartz is looking for at DT and showed good agility and toughness in his first season but coming out of a small Division III school he needs more time to develop.
Aaron Brown is a burner and could be utilized well with five to seven touches a game and a special teams job as a kick or punt returner. Zack Follett was a steal in the seventh round he is a madman on special teams having a high motor and the ability to put ballcarriers in the dirt. He also recently took his Lion pride to the next level by getting into a cage and playing with the wild kings of the jungle.
So, maybe this assesment of the 2009 draft is just coming from and over enthusiastic Lions fan as it is too early to know for sure but I truly believe we have something here.