The Detroit Lions own the first overall selection in April's NFL Draft. And given the pronounced ineptitude of the team since the turn of the century, much of the focus is centered on the many ways in which Detroit might botch the pick.
However, the last time the Lions were in this position, they truly got it right. The Lions selected one of the greatest players in franchise history, Oklahoma running back Billy Sims, with the first choice in the 1980 draft.
Although his career was cut short by a knee injury, and the number are officially retired for Barry Sanders, Sims is still regularly mentioned alongside Sanders and Hall of Famer Lem Barney as one of the greatest Lions to wear the No. 20. The trio is affectionately referred to as 'The Roaring 20s.'
But since hitting on Sims, a plethora of NFL teams have missed with the top pick. In the spirit of draft day nightmares, here's a look at the ten worst picks at the top of the last twenty-seven drafts.
It's worth noting that all of these picks are better than Ernie Davis (Redskins, 1962) and Jay Berwanger (Eagles, 1936; the First Annual NFL Selection Meeting), neither of whom ever played an NFL game, Davis obviously for tragic reasons.
Well, at least most of these selections were better...
It seems odd now, but Jackson never eclipsed 1,000 yards, scored 18 career touchdowns, and made a single Pro Bowl. Plus, he was a part-time player on a full-time salary because of his baseball career. Oh, and he only played four seasons.
And none of that matters.
He changed the game when he was on the field and is one of the most athletic personalities in American history. He deserves every bit of the praise he receives. When he was on the field, he truly transformed the game.
But the Raiders selected Jackson 183rd overall. In 1987.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers spent the first overall pick in 1986 on Jackson, the supremely gifted two-sport star out of Auburn.
They then proceeded to bilk him out of his eligibility to play his final season of college baseball, give him an ultimatum to choose a single professional sport, and alienate him to the point that he was available for the Raiders in the seventh round a year later.
Al Davis took a different path with Jackson, and the Raiders improved from 5-10 in 1987 to 12-4 in 1990.
The Washington Husky defensive lineman decided he had nothing left to prove in the Pac-10 and declared for the NFL Draft as a junior. The Colts spent the first overall pick on Emtman in 1992, obviously expecting great things.
Instead, Emtman's list of accomplishments deals primarily with injuries. Though he did have a memorable interception return upsetting Dan Marino and the Dolphins, Emtman will likely be remembered as the first NFL player to return from a torn patellar tendon.
In his first game back, he suffered a ruptured disc, but continued to play that day and for three weeks thereafter. The injury caused nerve damage that eventually rendered him unable to close his fists.
Emtman would come back yet again, however. After finishing his first three seasons on the injured/reserve list, he joined Marino for two seasons on the Miami Dolphins and spent his final year with the Redskins at age 27.
Despite his spirit, Emtman will either be remembered for his numerous injuries or his cameo in the film Little Giants.
Wilkinson was actually a pretty productive NFL player but has always been regarded as a disappointment.
The Ohio State tackle was one of the most hyped interior linemen in draft history, and while he was at times a serious force in the middle of the line, career highs of 38 tackles and 8 sacks simply weren't enough to live up to expectations.
The biggest problem with Wilkinson early on was his strained and ever-deteriorating relationship with the Bengals organization. The team switched to a 3-4 defense in 1997 and Wilkinson was something of a fish out of water at right defensive end.
The Bengals franchised him after the expiration of his first contract, much to his chagrin. He finally referred to Cincinnati as a "racist city" and owner Mike Brown opted to deal the tackle to the Washington Redskins.
He remained fairly effective but less than elite throughout his five seasons in Washington. In 2002, a salary dispute caused the Redskins to cut Wilkinson and he went on to form a quasi-effective team with Shaun Rogers in Detroit.
He finished his career after spending the 2006 season as a reserve for the Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins had attempted to trade Wilkinson to Denver in the offseason, but he failed to contact either team, effectively ending his career.
Sims just never had the passion for football that one would expect of a number one pick. He briefly quit the sport as a high school junior, but switched from tackle to linebacker and tight end and rejoined the team.
At the University of Texas Sims moved back to tackle and blossomed into an All-American, eventually becoming the first Longhorn to win the Lombardi Trophy. The Patriots made him the top pick in the 1982 NFL Draft.
His distaste for practice kept him from living up to his promise to "be there on game day" as he played 16 games only once and recorded a total of 17 sacks over 8 seasons.
Sims was arrested for possession of cocaine in 1990 and was promptly released by the Patriots thereafter, ending his forgettable career.
It might not seem like a man that made three Pro Bowls, led his team to three playoff berths, and took the Falcons into Green Bay in January and won should be on a list like this.
But Michael Vick is a special case.
Vick was supposed to shatter the way football had been played for decades. After two seasons at Virginia Tech Vick opted to declare for the NFL Draft in 2001.
The San Diego Chargers held the first pick and it was considered by many to be a foregone conclusion that Vick would be playing in sunny California.
Likely gun-shy as a result of the Ryan Leaf fiasco, the Chargers traded their pick to the Atlanta Falcons the day prior to the draft for WR Tim Dwight and the picks that would become RB LaDanian Tomlinson, CB Tay Cody, and WR Reche Caldwell.
The Falcons stayed on script and took Vick, thus making him the first African-American quarterback to be selected first overall.
Despite a very pedestrian passer rating of 75.7 for his career, Vick tended to have a positive impact on the Falcons' performance, posting a 38-28-1 record as a starter. In his final season (so far), Vick and RB Warrick Dunn became the first quarterback/running back team in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards each.
Still, what triumphs Vick accomplished seemed to be paired with greater disappointments. He did not change the way NFL football was played and was largely contained by better defensive units and schemes. Playoff success was limited and the Falcons never consistently won football games.
Then, in 2007, Vick became the target of a massive dog fighting investigation, eventually being convicted on federal and state charges and has been incarcerated since. He is also saddled with a three-year suspended sentence.
He is expected to be released in time for the 2009 NFL season, and has not abandoned his hope of returning to the league.
In 2002, Fresno State quarterback David Carr became the first draft pick of the fledgling Houston Texans. They made no secret of their intentions leading up to the draft, publicly announcing their selection and effectively putting the Carolina Panthers on the clock.
Things started off well enough. The Texans became only the second NFL expansion team to win their inaugural game when they beat intrastate rival Dallas 19-10 at Reliant Stadium, but things would only go downhill from there.
Ultimately, Carr posted a dismal 75.5 passer rating with Houston over five seasons and became one of the most sacked quarterbacks in NFL history. The apex of his Texan career came in 2004 when the team posted a franchise-best 7-9 record.
Carr is now a backup for the New York Giants, and the Texans' second try at a No. 1 pick, defensive end Mario Williams, seems to be working out much better.
Touted as the next Lawrence Taylor, the Falcons make their second appearance on this list with the selection of Auburn linebacker Aundray Bruce.
Certainly one of the most hyped linebackers in draft history, Bruce became an instant starter with the Falcons, and within two seasons had primarily played his way to the bench.
In four years with the Falcons his most memorable contribution is likely playing both ways, albeit sparingly, during the 1991 playoffs.
After that season, the Raiders signed Bruce and he would be with the team until 1998. He split his 32 career sacks equally between his two teams and was largely considered a contributor during his time in Los Angeles and Oakland, but he never again became a starter.
He started a mere 42 of 151 career games and compiled a scant 264 tackles.
The newly reborn Cleveland Browns were struggling to get a foothold in their return to the NFL in 2000 and looked to improve their defense with their second consecutive top overall pick. They had a tough choice to make between Penn State teammates LaVar Arrington and Courtney Brown, but opted for the latter on draft day.
Brown's rookie season was promising enough. Even though he finished the year injured, he made 61 tackles, a substantial number for a defensive lineman, and recorded 4.5 sacks.
Things would deteriorate from there, however. Brown played only 47 games in his five Cleveland seasons, compiling woeful totals of 156 tackles and 19 sacks.
He was allowed to sign with the Denver Broncos as a free agent in what turned out to be a mass migration of defensive lineman to Denver from Cleveland in 2005. He enjoyed relative health during the Broncos' run to the AFC Championship Game.
The Broncos extended his contract in the offseason, but Brown tore his ACL in the 2006 preseason and wouldn't play another down in the NFL.
After Art Modell took the Browns to Baltimore, the city of Cleveland was waiting on bated breath for the day their team would return to the NFL.
In 1999, the Browns finally returned to the NFL as an expansion team—after several threats by other teams to move to Cleveland to extract new stadiums from their local taxpayers.
As an expansion team, the Browns were expected to struggle, but they appeared to be set at quarterback by making Kentucky star Tim Couch the newly reformed organization's first draft choice. It took a single game for Couch to supplant Ty Detmer as the team's number one signal caller.
However, things did not go as planned. Couch was under constant pressure from opposing defenses due to an inexperienced offensive line and would lose over 1,000 yards to sacks in five seasons.
He was frequently injured and was never even able to scratch the potential most scouts saw in him.
By the end of his tenure he was feeling pressure from backup Kelly Holcomb for his starting spot. When the Browns made the playoffs in 2002, Couch watched as Holcomb threw for over 400 yards in a narrow wild card loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, having broken his leg the week prior.
After several moves back and forth, it became clear that Couch would never start under center for the Browns again, and after failing to secure roster spots with Green Bay and Jacksonville, his career unceremoniously came to a close.
Bad teams tend to be so moribund because they make such terrible decisions. As such, it is no coincidence that three teams make repeat appearances on this list.
The third of these teams comes in at number one as the Bengals used the top pick in the 1995 draft on heralded Penn State halfback Ki-Jana Carter.
The Ohio native was supposed to become an offensive force. The team envisioned dominant players on each side of the football in back-to-back number ones Wilkinson and Carter (much the same way the Browns did in Couch and Brown).
However, on his third carry of his first preseason game, Carter's 1995 season came to an end due to a complete tear of his ACL.
Carter returned in 1996 but started only four games, quickly replaced by Garrison Hearst. In 1997, the Bengals spent a second-round pick on the man that would become their franchise leader in rushing yards, Corey Dillon.
Dillon only started six games to Carter's ten, but he bested Ki-Jana by over a yard per carry and went over 1,100 yards that season. Carter spent two more seasons as a Bengal, participating in a grand total of four additional games.
After uneventful stints in Washington and New Orleans, his career stat line reads the way the Bengals probably envisioned a single disappointing season: 319 attempts, 1,144 yards, 20 TDs.