5. Andre Johnson- Wide Receiver (2003)
The Lions came into the 2003 draft with the second overall pick and hunting for a stud wide receiver to help out youngster quarterback Joey Harrington. Coming off of a stellar career at the University of Miami, Andre Johnson was a surefire top ten pick at receiver.
Johnson would go on to an illustrious 14-year career, earning All-Pro honors twice, seven Pro Bowl selections, and over 14,000 career receiving yards, good for 11th in NFL history. Unfortunately, most of that would take place in Houston rather than Detroit, as the Lions passed on Johnson in favor of another wideout, and the Texans scooped him up one spot later.
In an alternate universe, taking Andre Johnson (and of course, assuming that he had the same type of career) could have saved five plus years of wandering through the wilderness looking for receivers in all the wrong places. When their actual selection quickly flamed out, the front office spent the better part of the decade picking up any and every promising wide receiver available to play catch up for their big miss.
Obviously, this strategy was doomed, with so many other gaps in the roster that kept growing wider and wider. In hindsight, taking that other receiver above Johnson was one (to be fair, of many) major step that planted the seeds for the 0-16 season five years later.
Lions drafted instead: Charles Rogers
Rogers, the troubled wide receiver out of Michigan State (who recently passed away at the age of 38) is an infamous example of a major NFL Draft bust, but make no mistake, this was not a ‘bad pick’ by any stretch.
Coming out of college, Rogers was every bit as talented as Calvin Johnson (though quite a bit smaller), and that’s no exaggeration. With over 2,800 receiving yards and 27 touchdown catches in just two seasons, Rogers won the Biletnikoff award (more on that later) as the nation’s top receiver in 2002.
As an added benefit, the Saginaw kid had starred at Michigan State and was already a huge star in the state of Michigan, giving him the hometown hero story on top of his immense talent. Andre Johnson projected just as strongly, though probably with a slightly lower ceiling at the time. All else being equal, the Texans likely would have taken Rogers too if they had the first chance at him.
Still, seeing how poorly the move turned out for both Rogers and the Lions, Johnson’s Hall of Fame career in Houston is further salt to rub in the wound. This wouldn’t be the only time that a future Hall of Famer would be picked just one spot after the Lions took a pass.