Detroit Lions: The Best 30 Draft Picks in Franchise History

8 of 9

Sep 11, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; A view of a Detroit Lions helmet on the sidelines during a game against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Lions won 39-35. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

5. Lem Barney

Second round, No. 34 overall, 1967

Barney was ahead of his time as a defensive back. At 6 feet tall and a muscular 190 pounds, he was huge for his time and would fit right in today.

The Jackson State product made an immediate impact in the NFL, leading the league with 10 INTs as a rookie. That was the first of his seven Pro Bowl seasons. He was first-team All Pro in both 1968 and 69 after being the 1967 Rookie of the Year.

Barney was the first of the modern Lions legends to don No. 20. He still ranks in the top 20 all-time in INTs and top 10 in return yards. Also an accomplished punt returner, Barney was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1992 after spending his entire 11-year career in Detroit.

4. Billy Sims

First round, No. 1 overall, 1980

Oh what could have been! Sims burst into the league as the top overall pick in the 1980 draft and immediately proved worthy of the lofty status. He rushed for over 2700 yards and a league-leading 26 touchdowns in his first two seasons.

Sims earned his third Pro Bowl nod in as many years in 1982. He topped 1,000 yards again the following year, but the knee injuries began to take their toll. After just one more year, Sims was done.

The only other player in the top 20 from that draft who had a better career, even considering the relative brevity, was Anthony Munoz, who went No. 3 overall. Sims was well on his way to a Hall of Fame career in his own right before the injuries derailed greatness.

As a personal aside, my No. 20 Lions jersey says Sims on it, and it’s not a throwback. Too bad it’s a size youth large…

3. Calvin Johnson

First round, No. 2 overall, 2007

For all the innumerable things Matt Millen did wrong, he got this one right. The athletic freak wide receiver from Georgia Tech is definitively the best Lions player of the 2000s.

Megatron holds the record for most receiving yards in one season (2012), most in a two-year span (11-12) and five-year period (10-14). He made the Pro Bowl all five of those year, the All-Pro team three times.

Johnson has proven one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in the league in his eight-plus seasons. At his peak, few receivers have ever been as effective or prolific.

2. Charlie Sanders

Third round, No. 74 overall, 1968

Any time a team can land a Hall of Famer in the depths of the third round, that’s a fantastic pick.

His numbers seem pedestrian now; his most productive season came in 1969 with 42 catches for 656 yards. In 10 years he caught only 336 passes and scored 31 touchdowns. Yet for his era, those were big numbers for a tight end.

Beyond Sanders’ on-field contributions, he remained a great team ambassador until his untimely death earlier in 2015. No player embodies the concept of Lion Pride more than Charlie Sanders. RIP.

Next: Barry!