It wasn’t easy. Going back through the Lions last 20 years of drafts merely confirmed what Lions fans know all too well—year after painstaking year of a systematic failure to build the core of a competitive roster through the NFL draft.
The criteria for this list was straightforward:
- Player had to be drafted in the last 20 years between 1992-2011. Too soon to tell the impact Riley Reiff and his fellow Lions’ draft picks will have
- Player must have enjoyed some sort of longevity in his career (i.e. more than one or two seasons)
1st round – Calvin Johnson, WR, Georgia Tech (2007)
You don’t earn the nickname “Megatron” unless you are, well, a well-oiled robotic machine tuned for superior athletic prowess. Johnson just broke Jerry Rice’s receiving yards record and about a half-dozen others in his 225-yard explosion against Atlanta—in Week 15. Next up is the very real possibility of eclipsing the 2,000 yard mark—scary good.
2nd round – Dominic Raiola, C, Nebraska (2001)
Raiola has his fair share of critics but it’s hard to argue against some of the positives this former Cornhusker has brought to Motown:
- Dependable and Tough: Raiola has only missed four games to injury (2008) throughout his 12-year career
- Leadership: Being outspoken, albeit too much at times, and not afraid to call out aloof teammates has earned him the role of unofficial clubhouse leader by default via the media and fan base and even his teammates as a team-voted captain since 2006.
3rd round – Cliff Avril, DE, Purdue (2008)
Avril is one of the league’s upper echelon pass rushers who, at 26, is just now entering his prime. He will be one of the very difficult personnel decisions awaiting Martin Mayhew and Jim Schwartz this offseason after receiving the franchise tag last offseason. Team President and salary cap wizard Tom Lewand does not have much wiggle room under the cap next year.
With prototypical size (6-3, 265) to go with his elite speed and quickness, Avril has continuously raised his level of production every season since his debut in 2008 in which he was named to the Sporting News All-Rookie Team. In 2011, Avril totaled 36 tackles, 11 sacks, six forced fumbles, three fumbles recovered, and an interception which he returned for a touchdown.
4th round – Sammie Lee Hill, DT, Stillman College (2009)
Helping the pride of Stillman College appear on this list is partially due to the fact the Lions three most recent General Managers, mostly due to previous years or draft-day trades, have been without a 4th round selection. Hill, only 26, is just now rounding into form as a dependable part of one the league’s best defensive line rotations. As a lane-clogging defensive tackle, he could start for a handful of teams right now but has his snaps limited by the dominating Ndamakong Suh and emerging young star, Nick Fairley.
5th round – Stephen Boyd, LB, Boston College (1995)
Being the backup and heir replacement to one of the most iconic and beloved players is not an easy position to be in. But Boyd stepped in to fill the void Chris Spielman left in 1996 when he signed with Buffalo. The Lions defense didn’t skip a beat as Boyd went on to lead the team in tackles four consecutive years while being selected as a Pro Bowl alternate in three of those seasons.
6th round – Corey Schlesinger, RB/FB, Nebraska (1995)
When he wasn’t initiating, and mostly winning, head-on collisions as a road-grinder fullback Schlesinger was a special teams dynamo. A humble, bring your lunch-pail to work kind of work ethic, Schlesinger endeared himself to gain the affinity and respect of Lions fans. He eventually earned more national recognition being named to three consecutive Pro Bowls (2003-2005) as an alternate. He currently teaches a CAD and drafting class at Allen Park High School—the same Allen Park the Lions team facilities are located. Talk about a fan favorite riding off into the sunset as a local high school teacher—great way to transition back into a community by a beloved former Lions player at a time when too many people, former athletes and everyday citizens alike, left that area at their first opportunity.
7th round – Since there are no noteworthy Lions players taken in this round in the last 20 years, an exception was made to include the 8th round
8th round – Willie Clay, DB, Georgia Tech (1992)
Willie “Big Play” Clay had a nice career—certainly one that far surpassed expectations reserved for prospects drafted much earlier. The Pittsburgh native went on to play three seasons in New England (1996-1998) and New Orleans (1999).
Clay started all 16 games in the 2004 and 2005 seasons for Detroit at strong safety. He was outstanding as he tallied 109 tackles, 11 interceptions, and three forced fumbles combined.