Every media outlet on the planet has focused in on the horrible picks that the Detroit Lions have made over the past eight drafts. More than taking players who never worked out, though, the true problem is players left on the boards that have proven to be legitimate NFL stars.
For the purposes of this article, we are going to focus on two Lions drafts in particular—2003 and 2005—and solely on their first-round selections.
First and foremost, I think every team out there is capable of making a Ryan Leaf-type mistake. Drafting is more luck than science, and there are numerous examples of this. However, when an NFL executive continually makes the wrong choice, then we are free to criticize.
In 2003, the Lions drafted Charles Rogers with the second overall pick. Granted, he was a Heisman candidate and had just completed a record-setting year at Michigan State University. For Detroit fans, this reeked like the mess the Detroit Pistons made by drafting fellow MSU alumni Mateen Cleaves.
I think the numbers Rogers put up in 2001 at MSU qualified him as a top 10 draft pick. Fifty-seven receptions for 1,200 yards with an average of 21.1 yards per catch are great numbers. He followed that up with an excellent 2002, when he won the Fred Biletnikoff award as college football's best wide receiver.
The Lions needed a legitimate No. 1 receiver and most indications seemed to point that Rogers was just that. However, since the Houston Texans took Andre Johnson with the very next pick, these two were forever linked, one as a draft bust, the other as a draft winner.
If we look at the other picks from that round, though, the Lions missed many legitimate stars who could have helped write a very different Lions future (now legacy).
On the defensive side they missed defensive back Troy Polamalu and linebacker Terrell Suggs, and on the offensive side they missed running backs Larry Johnson and Willis McGahee. Those are all players who could have made a difference on the Lions.
The 2005 draft is even uglier. For the third straight year, the Lions used a top 10 pick on a wideout. This time they selected Mike Williams with the 10th overall pick, passing up linebackers DeMarcus Ware and Shawne Merriman.
Since the Lions linebacker corps at the point contained Donte Curry, James Davis, Earl Holmes, Teddy Lehman, and Wali Rainer, either one of those linebacker prospects could have had a significant impact on the Lions.
The basic premise here is every team misses once in a while, but only an 0-16 team can make this many draft misses.