For eight years Matt Millen held the keys to the Lions organization and as a result of his tenure the Lions have lost 96 games during that timespan, a new record for futility.
A lot had to go wrong for the team to become perhaps the sorriest bunch in American professional sports history, but poor coaching hires, missed trade opportunities, and ill-advised free agent deals all came together in the perfect storm of ineptitude.
But the aspect of Millen's tenure that has drawn the most criticism, and rightfully so, is the NFL Draft. So, with the Lions poised to select the top overall player for the first time since 1980 (Billy Sims, RB, Oklahoma), we now look back on the numerous ways it could all go wrong.
While it's too early to completely write him off, 2008 second-round selection Jordon Dizon's (far left in above picture) silence has been deafening. The undersized linebacker has been hurt, but his inability to make any real contribution on one of the worst defenses in league history speaks volumes. Drafting linebackers has been surprisingly difficult for Millen.
Actually a very talented player, Millen ignored the injury flag on Bailey and spent a second rounder on him in 2003. He joined his brother Champ in Denver as a free agent this summer after 7 sacks in 5 years with Detroit, spending nearly as much time on IR as on the field. He never broke 90 tackles in a season and failed to be a factor in pass defense. And how's he working out for the Broncos? 40 tackles, IR.
Millen made a habit of waiting until the second round to take defensive players, and it really didn't work out. But even worse with tremendous disappointment Kalimba Edwards, he gave Edwards a second contract with the team. Billed by the team as an elite pass rusher, his career high of 7 sacks didn't exactly turn a lot of heads. Now he's in Oakland, nearly completing yet another pedestrian season.
In his second season the Lions appear to have made it very clear that they don't think Stanton can be an NFL quarterback. An athletic playmaker whose most prominent attribute was the red injury flag he carried, Stanton missed his rookie season and has been passed over time and time again for playing time in his sophomore year. If he can't play, why spend a second-round pick on him?
Still not recognized by most as a bust, Backus is the reason the Lions have never been consistent on offense. He is a finesse blocker that struggles against speed moves and bull rushes. The line has routinely collapsed from the left side on runs and passes alike. Too bad college teammate and All-Pro Steve Hutchinson was taken just a single pick earlier by Seattle.
The second-round pick was always undersized, but his rangy manner and mean streak were supposed to make up for it. Drafted to supplant Earl Holmes at MLB, it was quickly determined that he would have to play outside. A lack of productivity, progression, and health soon determined that he would be a special teamer at best.
There were questions about Cody (left) from the start. He was considered a "tweener," but not the athletic "does he play standing up or with his hand on the ground" kind of tweener. Most thought he was too big and slow to play end, but too small and weak to be an effective tackle. And through his first four seasons, he's proven that assessment to be dead on. Drafting teammates has not worked out for the Lions (Cody & M. WIlliams - USC, 2005; Edwards and A. Goodman - South Carolina, 2002).
The supposed franchise quarterback turned out to be more Andre Ware than Bobby Layne. After his "Joey Heisman" senior season at Oregon, Detroit made him the third overall pick in 2002. Perhaps the most high-profile failure in recent Detroit memory, Harrington became the face of the franchise. He just didn't do it the way anyone would have hoped.
Game photos of Rogers are difficult to come by. Many opined that if the Heisman were truly given to the best player in college football the Spartan wide out would have won the award in his final season. After a tremendous debut and two impressive touchdown catches against the Arizona Cardinals, Rogers broke his collarbone during a drill with Dre Bly and his downward spiral began. Hopes were high when he returned to the field the next season, but he suffered a separate break of the same collarbone three plays in. In 2005, he was suspended four games for a third violation of the league's substance abuse policy and the Lions eventually won a judgment against him for the majority of his signing bonus. He was released in 2006 with the following career stat line: 15 games played, 36 receptions, 440 yards, 4 TDs, and has since found himself in legal trouble. He reportedly still owes the Lions $8.5 million.
There was a time when three of the top receivers in college football were Roy, Mike, and Reggie Williams. Mike had hoped to be drafted in the same class as Roy and Reggie, following Maurice Clarett in a crusade against the NFL's "three years out of high school" policy, but was denied. He had to take a year off, and reportedly spent it working with Cris Carter refining the holes in his game. It was unfathomable that two of the three Williamses could end up teammates, but that's what happened in 2005 when the tenth overall selection in the draft belonged to the receiver-happy Detroit Lions.
Why did it take Matt Millen a full minute to select Williams? "It took me that long to spell his name."
The honeymoon was short-lived. Continuing an apparent trend of immediately quitting on highly-drafted players, Williams barely saw the field. He struggled with his weight, a well-known issue with the receiver, and perhaps as an example to others primarily rode the bench through his two seasons in Detroit. Amazingly, when he saw the field, he was somewhat effective, even catching a touchdown late in 2006 after seeing extremely limited action.
Williams is no longer in the NFL after failing to catch on in Oakland and Tennessee.