Detroit Lions: 15 best first-round draft picks of all-time

Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /
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Ezekiel Ansah, Detroit Lions
Ezekial Ansah, Detroit Lions. (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images) /

The Detroit Lions have been around seemingly forever. Have they hit on as many first-round picks as you would think? Here are their 15 best picks to date.

The Detroit Lions are one of the longest-running professional football teams in the NFL. They have played every season since 1930 when they were known as the Portsmouth Spartans. The Lions moniker would first stick in 1934.

While the Lions have not had much gridiron success in the Super Bowl era, they won four NFL championships before the AFL-NFL merger. Even during the lean last few decades, the Lions have occasionally rattled off a stellar regular season.

So it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that the Lions have had more than their fair share of experiences picking high in the draft. This isn’t always a bad thing, as the Lions have been able to nail a handful of their first-round picks to date. You might have heard of some of these guys.

Before we begin on this exercise, let it be known that former SMU Mustangs Heisman Trophy winning running back Doak Walker was drafted by the now defunct Boston Yanks in 1949 as a junior. He would never play for that franchise and would be traded to the Lions ahead of the 1950 NFL season. With that in mind, here are the 15 best first-round draft picks in Lions football history.

Honorable Mentions: Bennie Blades, DB, Miami (1988, No. 3), Lloyd Cardwell, DB, Nebraska (1937, No. 7), Keith Dorney, OT, Penn State (1979, No. 10), Luther Elliss, DT, Utah (1995, No. 20), Pat Harder, RB/LB, Wisconsin (1944, No. 2), Greg Landry, QB, UMass (1968, No. 11), Steve Owens, RB, Oklahoma (1970, No. 19), Frankie Sinkwich, RB, Georgia (1943, No. 1), Bob Westfall, RB, Michigan State (1942, No. 5), Roy Williams, WR, Texas (2004, No. 7)

While the 2013 NFL Draft did not produce a ton of Pro Bowl level talents in the first round, the Lions were able to make a sound selection by taking defensive end Ezekiel Ansah No. 5 overall out of BYU. It was a risky draft selection given that he only played three years of organized football, all at BYU, but this pick has worked out so far.

Ansah has just been franchise tagged by the Lions ahead of his of sixth year in the NFL at a cool $17.5 million. In five years with the Lions, Ansah has been an ever-present force in the Detroit pass rush. Though his sack numbers fluctuate, Ansah is often the biggest quarterback sacking threat the opposing offensive line has to deal with.

Through his first 73 NFL games, Ansah has made 71 starts for the Lions. He has recorded 155 tackles, 52 assists, 44.0 quarterback sacks, three forced fumbles, two passes defended and one fumble recovery. Ansah has twice gone over 10.0 quarterback sacks in a season. During the 2015 campaign, Ansah made his first trip to the Pro Bowl and earned Second-Team All-Pro honors.

2018 will be a critical year for Ansah, as he will be playing in a contract year for a new defensive-minded head coach in former New England Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. Should Ansah have his third 10.0-sack season, he could stand to make a bit of coin on the open market just before his 30th birthday.