Detroit Lions in rare draft history air with run of first-round picks

With general manager Brad Holmes' well-founded affinity for Alabama players, the Lions are now in some rare draft history air.
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Apart for seizing an unexpected opportunity to trade up and get cornerback Terrion Arnold in the first round of this year's draft, the Detroit Lions extended their run of drafting Alabama players to a third straight draft. Time will tell if that run extends beyond Nick Saban's tenure, but there will still be players who played for Saban available in the next could drafts.

Saban coached players hard, and ran something akin to an NFL program in Tuscaloosa, at least in terms of turning top-end recruits into top-end NFL prospects. Saban once lamented how so few NFL teams would contact him about his draft-eligible players. But in recent years the Lions/Holmes were one that did, and they wound taking a player Saban tabbed as his favorite in the draft class each of the last two years (Brian Branch and Arnold, h/t to Albert Breer of

In total, the Lions have drafted four Alabama players in the last three drafts-Jameson Williams, Jahmyr Gibbs, Branch and Arnold.

Lions wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown called the Detroit "damn near Alabama U" will all the recent additions.

Detroit Lions now in rare NFL Draft history air

Via Eric Woodyard of ESPN, Holmes hasn't necessarily planned to draft so many Alabama players but he doesn't regret it.

"When you pull kids out of those programs, you pretty much have a good feel," Holmes said after this year's first round. "Not all of them are the same as a person, but you kind of know what they've already been through and you definitely know what kind of coaching they've had and you've seen them versus the highest level, and there's really not a whole lot more to see."

So, essentially, Alabama players are mostly the ideal kind of prospects entering the NFL. They've been coached hard and coached up by Saban, plus they've played high-level competition in the SEC and later in a season during the College Football Playoff since that has existed. It then comes down to evaluating their broader makeup to find fits.

Williams (2022), Gibbs (2023) and Arnold (2024) were of course first-round picks by the Lions.

According to ESPN Stats and Information, per Woodyard, that's the third time in the common draft era (since 1967) a team has selected players from the same school in the first round of three consecutive drafts.

From 2019 to 2021, the Raiders also took three Alabama products in the first round: running back Josh Jacobs, wide receiver Henry Ruggs and offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood.

From 2007 to 2009, the Kansas City Chiefs drafted three straight LSU products in the first round: wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey and defensive end Tyson Jackson.

Gibbs and Branch were significant immediate contributors as rookies last year. Williams seems set for a breakthrough third season, after two seasons that weren't an ideal start to his NFL career. Arnold is lined up for a significant role as a rookie, as the Crimson Tide contingent continues to grow in Detroit.

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