Detroit Lions draft regrets: Top 5 ‘ones who got away’

Credit: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Credit: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images /
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Jim Kelly, Buffalo Bills
Jim Kelly, Buffalo Bills. (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images) /

4. Jim Kelly- Quarterback (1983)

Between approximately 1958 and 2009, the Lions were endlessly, consistently, and desperately searching for their next franchise quarterback, their next Bobby Layne. If ever there was a draft where their next great (or at least good) QB was being handed to them on a silver platter, right dead center of that stretch would have been the time.

Still known to this day as ‘the year of the quarterback’, the 1983 draft featured six QBs taken in the first round. Four of these players would reach the Super Bowl at some point in their careers, and three would have Hall of Fame careers.

The Lions held the 13th pick in the draft that year, having gone 4-5 in the strike shortened ’82 season. John Elway, the gem of the class, was long gone by that point (so was Todd Blackledge, for what it’s worth).  Still, guys like Jim Kelly, Tony Eason, and Dan Marino were all there for the taking and would be picked up by other teams soon after.

The Lions had Eric Hipple as their somewhat established starter, having just finished his third year on the team. For some of the older fans on this site, I’m curious to hear what the perception of Hipple was around that time. Looking at his career numbers, there doesn’t appear to be any reason for the shot callers in the front office to think they were all set at quarterback with him, but I’d like to hear from people who were there.

As for Kelly, he went to five Pro Bowls and took the Buffalo Bills, who picked the future Hall of Famer (again) one spot after the Lions, to the Super Bowl four times in a row at the start of the 1990s. The Lions would have to wait another 25 years before finding a franchise quarterback.

Lions drafted instead: James Jones

Jones was a fullback back when fullbacks were in fashion, and a pretty good one at that. He scored 33 touchdowns in his first four seasons, helping the Lions to the playoffs right out of the gate in ’83. Still, you don’t hear teams getting philosophical about the importance of landing a franchise fullback, not back then any more than you do now.