Detroit Lions: 15 greatest draft-day steals of all-time

Darius Slay, Detroit Lions. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
Darius Slay, Detroit Lions. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images) /
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Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions
Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /

Calvin Johnson wouldn’t typically be a player that would classify as a draft-day steal. He is a surefire Pro Football Hall of Famer after an incredible college career at Georgia Tech. Though he only played in the NFL for nine seasons, he is one of the greatest players of his era and to ever play for the Lions.

Johnson was so good for the Ramblin’ Wreck of Georgia Tech that he went No. 2 overall to the Lions in the 2007 NFL Draft. But even if he is widely considered to be one of the best wide receivers of the last 25 years, how can he possibly be defined as a draft-day steal?

Just look at who went No. 1 overall that spring and you’ll see why. Despite being a two-time consensus All-American and the Fred Biletnikoff winner in 2006 while at Georgia Tech, that wasn’t good enough for Johnson to go No. 1 overall to the Oakland Raiders.

While Johnson would have been the prototypical wide receiving talent that late Raiders owner Al Davis would have wanted out of the position, the Silver and Black needed a quarterback, desperately. Instead of taking the future Pro Football Hall of Fame receiver, the Raiders drafted quarterback JaMarcus Russell out of LSU No. 1 overall.

Though he had a cannon for a right arm, accuracy, weight issues and maturity wrecked Russell’s NFL career before the end of the decade. All Johnson did was set NFL records in the Honolulu blue and Silver in Detroit.

From 2007 to 2015, Johnson had 731 catches for 11,619 yards and 83 touchdowns. He made the Pro Bowl six times and earned three First-Team All-Pro nods. He led the league in receiving yards in back-to-back seasons in 2011 and 2012, respectively. His 1,984 in 2012 is an NFL record. He also led the league in catches in 2012 with 122 and touchdowns in 2008 with 12.

Despite being in his early 30s, Johnson decided to call it a career still in the midst of his prime, much in the same vein Barry Sanders did in the late 1990s. Frankly, Johnson could still be playing in the NFL today at a high level, even if he is three years removed from the game.

Johnson will almost certainly be a first ballot Pro Football Hall of Famer in the Class of 2021. Then again, it has been very difficult for receivers to typically get in on the first ballot. What wasn’t difficult was the Lions deciding to take the best player in the 2007 NFL Draft at No. 2 when the Raiders foolishly took a chance on Russell to be their franchise quarterback.