I believe it takes three full seasons to evaluate a draft class. As the college bowls finish up and juniors and third-year sophomores decided whether to return to school or declare for the draft, let's take a look at the 2008 NFL draft and see how well the Lions picks have played so far.
The 2008 edition might very well be Matt Millen's best draft as Lions GM. The Lions actually got players who have contributed—something of a rarity with Millen in charge. Hindsight is always 20/20, however I will try to keep in mind what the needs of the team were at the time, so we can view the picks in that light as well.
First Round, Pick No. 15
Detroit trades its first and third round pick (76th) to the Chiefs for a first round (17), third round (66), and fifth round pick (136).
This was a good trade for Detroit, they dropped back only two spots and moved up in the third round, plus added a fifth round pick. At No. 17, Detroit took OT Gosder Cherilus.
Analysis: I understand why Detroit took an OT, what I don't understand is why they took Cherilus when in my mind at the time and now Jeff Otah was a better RT prospect. At the time Cherilus, was viewed as a developmental tackle and a good run blocker.
Cherilus has proved to be inconsistent and not as good at run blocking as hoped. If the Lions had a do over, they probably would have drafted Otah who has developed into a much better tackle.
The other side to think about at this point as well is Detroit really needed a RB. There were several running backs selected late who would have made a big impact—Rashard Mendenhall (23), Chris Johnson (24), and Ray Rice (55th).
My pick would be Jeff Otah. Both Mendenhall and Chris Johnson have been phenomenal, but without an offensive line both Mendenhall and Johnson would not put up the numbers they have. It's possible Detroit could have traded down again and selected one of those backs or a defensive player like CB Aqib Talib or CB Mike Jenkins.
Grade: B-. Cherilus is a starter, and can still improve.
Second Round, Pick No. 14 (45) Jordon Dizon
Analysis: Not a bad pick for Detroit, but might have been a bit of a reach. There would have been a good chance Dizon would have been available when Detroit drafted in its original third round slot. Dizon has been an excellent special teams player, but has contributed as a starter, which is what you expect out of a second round pick.
Who else? Ray Rice. Rice has developed into a smash-mouth runner, the kind Detroit hasn't had since James Stewart. The other player to consider would have been DeSean Jackson to pair with WR Calvin Johnson, but considering Detroit's success (minus Johnson) going with the LB or Rice would have been the best bet.
Grade: B-. Dizon is a contributor and gives everything he has.
Third Round, Pick No. 1 (64), 24 (87), 29 (92)
First pick, Lions move up two spots and select RB Kevin Smith. Pick 24, Lions trade unhappy Shaun Rogers for Leigh Bodden and this pick, Lions select DT Andre Fullen. At No. 29, Detroit trades the 2008 and 2009 fourth round picks for DE Cliff Avril.
Analysis: The Lions drafted their running back in the third round. Smith had a good college career, but there were concerns about his upright running style leading to injuries. Unfortunately, we'll probably never know how good Smith could have been because of his injuries. He rushed for almost a 1,000 yards his rookie season, but its been all downhill since.
Andre Fullen has developed into a nice rotational player along the defensive line that was the anchor for the 2010 Lions. Cliff Avril had a breakout year in 2010, delivering on the potential he flashed in the two seasons prior.
Who else? If the Lions had drafted Rice instead of Dizon in Round 2, Dizon would have been a great third round selection. Running back-wise, Jamaal Charles (73) was still available and has proven to be a much better RB. Another route the Lions could have gone would have been drafting TE Jermichael Finley (91).
Grade: A-. Avril is a quality starter, and Fullen has been a very good inside. Smith is the only miss in this group as much because of injury as anything else.
Fourth Round, No Pick (Traded for Cliff Avril)
Fifth Round, Pick No. 1 (136), and 11 (146)
With pick No. 1, the Lions select WR Kenneth Moore. At pick No. 11 Detroit trades back two spots and adds a seventh round pick (218), Lions select FB Jerome Felton.
Analysis: While the pick of WR Moore is an example of the many swings and misses by Millen, Felton has been the starting FB for Detroit. Late round picks are difficult to project and really rounds five through seven are finding players you think have some potential and hoping for the best. Felton panned out, Moore never played in the league.
Who else? CB Brandon Carr (140). Carr has been a starter and put up solid numbers for KC. Anyone other then Moore at the top.
Grade: B+. It's a crap shoot, and Millen found a starter.
Sixth Round, No Pick
Seventh Round, Pick No. 9 (216), and No. 11 (218)
At pick No. 9, DT Landon Cohen; pick No. 11 S/OLB Caleb Campbell.
Analysis: Cohen was a decent backup who is still pretty raw. He's currently playing for the Patriots. Caleb Campbell ended the year on the Lions roster after completing his military commitment. He is mostly a practice squad/special teams player right now, but he is still working off the rust from two years away from football.
Who else? Peyton Hills, who had a break out year for Cleavland.
Grade: B+. Two serviceable backups from the seventh round is pretty good.
The Lions landed three starters (Cherilus, Avril, Felton) and several key backups/special team players (Dizon, Fluellen, Smith). They could have done better, but really did pretty well. After the draft, ESPN gave the Lions a C+; I would say looking back it should be closer to a B-. No superstars, but guys who contribute.