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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Lem Barney, Detroit Lions
Lem Barney, Detroit Lions. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

5. player. 50. . CB/PR. Jackson State Tigers, 1967 (No. 34). Lem Barney

Lem Barney spent his entire 11-year Pro Football Hall of Fame career with the Lions. He was a seven-time Pro Bowl player, a two-time First-Team All-Pro and won the 1967 AP NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. His 10 interceptions for 232 yards and three touchdowns were all league bests, as well as career-highs for the Lions defensive back.

Barney also returned punts during his 11 years in Detroit for the Lions, as he was a dynamic playmaker with the ball in his hands. So why did he fall to them at No. 34 in the 1967 NFL Draft? A big reason for this could be his small school nature.

Detroit had already made a great pick in the first round at No. 7 in the 1967 NFL Draft by selecting running back Mel Farr out of UCLA. Farr played all seven of his NFL seasons in Detroit, making two Pro Bowls and earning the AP NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 1967. The Lions had players earning top rookie honors of both sides of the ball with their incredible 1967 NFL Draft.

Though Farr was an excellent player for the Lions, Barney would be the one to eventually have a bust in Canton. In his first four years in the league, Barney had at least seven interceptions in a season. He finished with 56 career picks for 1,077 yards and seven trips to pay dirt.

But once again, it had to have been Barney’s alma mater of Jackson State University that led to him being available for the Lions to pick at No. 34. Nearly all the players picked ahead of Barney played for schools that are now Power 5 universities, or at the very least in the Group of 5.

An exception would be the Oakland Raiders taking offensive lineman Gene Upshaw out of then-Texas A&I at No. 17. Upshaw would be a transformative offensive guard for the Raiders with his powerful run-blocking abilities as a lead blocker on sweeps.

Still, Barney is one of eight players taken in the 1967 NFL Draft to earn enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He is one of four to have been taken in the second round or later. The others are linebacker Willie Lanier, offensive tackle Rayfield Wright and defensive back Ken Houston.

Barney would have to wait until 1992 to earn that gold jacket of his, but his inclusion into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as one of the best ball hawks of his era is merited. By getting a Hall of Fame player in what was the back-end of the second round was a huge value pick for the Lions and one that definitely classifies as a draft-day steal.