Detroit Lions: Five Best Drafts of the Last 30 Years

Jay Wierenga@@JayWierengaCorrespondent IMarch 22, 2012

Detroit Lions: Five Best Drafts of the Last 30 Years

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    With the bulk of free agency now safely concluded, the Detroit Lions now shift their attention toward the draft.

    Since Martin Mayhew and Tom Lewand took over for the now disposed Matt Millen, the Lions have enjoyed some tremendous drafts, and the fans are hopeful for yet another one in a little over a month.

    One of the constants of nearly my entire life is that the Lions generally have been bad, so they have had some nice draft positions. Sometimes that helped, sometimes it didn't.

    As we saw with the Millen years, even a high draft pick does not ensure a good draft.

    Let's take a look at the past 30 years and how the most recent drafts compare with some of the standouts of the less recent past.

No. 5: 2007, 2008, 2010 (tie)

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    This is a tough one to call.

    The 2008 draft produced Cliff Avril, who is turning into an elite outside rusher.

    The 2007 draft produced perhaps the best wide receiver in Lions history in Calvin Johnson.

    The 2010 draft produced a dominant defensive tackle in Ndamukong Suh.

    What this draft comes down to are the other members.

    In order for 2007 to be one of the five best drafts, Johnson needs to continue to dominate like he has, and will this draft to the top on his own as none of the other players are either on the team or contributing much to the team.

    In order for 2008 to be one of the top five drafts, Gosder Cherilus will have to develop into a dominant offensive tackle.

    And in order for 2010 to be one of the top five, Jahvid Best will have to stay healthy and show more of the talent that we all see in him.

No. 4: 1992

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    The Lions had some of their best draft classes between 1988 and 1992. However, this would be the last good class for well over a decade.

    Robert Porcher became an all-time great, logging 95.5 sacks over his long and distinguished career, which included three Pro Bowls.

    Next came Tracy Scroggins who never received the same type of fanfare, but nonetheless had a remarkable career. Scroggins had over 60 sacks as well, plus eight forced fumbles.

    Willie Clay was solid if unspectacular as an eighth-round pick, but the real strong pick was Jason Hanson in the late second round.

    Hanson not only had a great career with Detroit, but he still is going strong.

No. 3: 1988

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    There are two primary aims of any good draft. 

    One, to find elite talent that you can build your team around.

    And two, supplement that talent with depth at key positions.

    In 1988, the Lions brought in talent, mainly on the defensive side of the ball, that would be the core of the team for a decade.

    Bennie Blades was the first pick, and turned into an elite safety.

    Sure, he only made one Pro Bowl, but he was an intimidating force in the secondary.

    Chris Spielman was their second round pick, and turned into the face of the defense for the 90's. He was a four-time Pro Bowler and a one-time All-Pro.

    Pat Carter and Ray Roundtree were misses, but William White would go on to a very productive career with Detroit.

    Eric Andolsek was the Lions' fifth-round selection and showed plenty of promise as a starting guard before tragically being killed when a semi trailer jumped the freeway and hit him in his front yard while he was gardening.

No. 2: 1989

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    This draft supplied the Lions with the greatest running back in the history of the game. If I have to explain to you why this is so, you are reading the wrong article.

    Barry Sanders alone would have made this one of the best drafts in Lions history.

    But they followed that up with Mike Utley in the third round, Ray Crockett in the fourth and Rodney Peete in the sixth.

    Utley had the makings of a very good player when he was paralyzed on the field, something that spurred the "Thumbs Up" movement that helped land the Lions in the NFC championship game in 1991.

    Crockett turned into a very productive cornerback with Detroit and then later with Denver.

    Peete turned into a starting quarterback with Detroit, producing some solid years, although injuries and inconsistency ultimately led to him exiting the Lions.

    Regardless, this proved to be quite the draft for Detroit.

No. 1: 2009

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    The Lions waited over half a century for an elite, franchise quarterback and they finally got it right in 2009.

    After freak injuries had some questioning Matthew Stafford, he bounced back in spectacular fashion last year to put up myriad franchise passing records.

    Brandon Pettigrew was next and has turned into one of the best receiving tight ends on the planet. Sure he has the occasional untimely drop, but the Lions are surely glad to take that chance.

    Louis Delmas has turned into the best safety that the team has had since Bennie Blades, and only injuries can keep him from becoming elite.

    DeAndre Levy has bounced from outside to middle linebacker and now back to outside again, and is a valuable member of the defensive back field.

    Most of the other picks basically flamed out, but Sammie Hill is providing solid depth on a great defensive line.