The last decade for the Detroit Lions has been rough. I could go on and on about the struggles of the last 10 years for the franchise, but the bottom line is: teams that draft well, play well. The Lions haven’t played well, so they haven’t drafted well in recent history, right? Let’s find out. (Notes: 1. The only draft picks I will be grading are the picks from rounds 1-3, with important late round players being mentioned, but not graded. 2. Obviously, a lot of these grades are incomplete. Most of these can change over the next couple of years. 3. I am only judging the players based on their time with the Lions.)
R1, P23: RILEY REIFF, OT
Riley Reiff played for 5 seasons in Detroit, starting in 69/80 of the games over that span. While not receiving any accolades, he was a very solid tackle that gave the Lions a sense of security in the trenches. The only reason that he isn’t graded higher is due to him not playing past his rookie deal. While he was a late round 1 pick, he was still drafted in the first round, meaning expectations were raised. He did not exactly meet the expectations of a first round tackle.
R2, P54: RYAN BROYLES, WR
This pick was nothing short of a disaster. Broyles was a stud at Oklahoma, putting up 3 straight thousand yard seasons from 2009-2011. He had a total of 420 yards in his 4 year stint in the NFL, and he never made another active roster after he was cut in 2015.
R3, P85: DWIGHT BENTLEY, DB
I don’t want to harp on the negative draft picks from the last decade- because if I did, this article would be the length of a novel. Dwight Bentley started 8 games, and never had an interception in the NFL. Similar to Broyles, he was cut in 2015 and was never seen in the league again.
OTHER NOTABLE PICKS: NONE
R1, P5: EZEKIEL ANSAH
There is no doubt that Ezekiel Ansah is a solid NFL player, and he was good when he was on the field for the Lions. However, a top 5 draft pick needs to have more than 1 pro bowl to be worthy of his draft status. Ansah was an elite pass rusher in 2015 and 2017, and the rest of his Lions tenure was decent. He played 6 seasons for Detroit before signing with Seattle.
R2, P36: DARIUS SLAY
This is the first pick so far that I can confidently say the Lions “hit” on. Slay was elite during his Lions tenure, with the highlight being his first team all pro 2017 campaign. Outside of 2017, he was still a lockdown corner, but lack of ball production led to him being underrated by the national media. He played 7 seasons before moving east to Philadelphia.
R3, P65: LARRY WARFORD, OG
Larry Warfords years in a Lions uniform were nearly identical to Riley Reiff’s. Both were dependable starting offensive linemen for a handful of years, went to another team, and immediately got better. Warford’s improvement was so significant that he made 3 straight pro bowls with the Saints after not making any in his 4 years in Detroit. The reason why Warford is a B+ while Reiff is a B- is due to the spot in which they were drafted. Getting a starting guard for 4 seasons is good value relative to other third round picks.
OTHER NOTABLE PICKS: SAM MARTIN, P(R5)
R1, P10: ERIC EBRON, TE
When tight ends are drafted 10th overall, they are held to an extremely high standard. Eric Ebron did not come close to meeting that standard. He was the Lions starting tight end for parts of 4 seasons, and he never lived up to his potential. While he certainly was not completely incompetent, catching 11 touchdowns and racking up over 2,000 receiving yards while in Detroit, he never was anything more than an average tight end. Of course, he decided to have his best years away from Detroit; making a pro bowl in 2018 with Indianapolis.
R2,P40: KYLE VAN NOY
Kyle Van Noy is a very solid player who contributed to 2 super bowl winning Patriots teams. However, he was a non-factor with the team that drafted him. In his 2.5 seasons with the Lions, he started 7 games and recorded a whopping 3 tackles for loss and 1 sack. He was traded in the middle of the 2016 season, and looked like a completely different player in New England. It was abundantly clear right away that Van Noy was very talented, but the Lions coaching staff was incompetent in regards to his development.
R3, P76: TRAVIS SWANSON, OG/C
Travis Swanson was the Lions starting center from 2015-2017. He wasn’t particularly good, but he was a serviceable offensive lineman who started 42 games for Detroit. That has to mean something.
OTHER NOTABLE PICKS: NONE
R1,P28: LAKEN TOMLINSON, OG
Once again, another offensive lineman who’s best days were with a team other than the Lions. After 2 seasons of being Detroit’s starting left guard, he was traded to the San Francisco 49ers prior to the 2017 season. First round picks usually play more than 2 seasons with the team that drafts them. Of course, he made his first pro bowl last season with the Niners.
R2, P54: AMEER ABDULLAH, RB
Ameer Abdullah was fantastic at Nebraska, and getting him in the second round seemed like great value at the time. I’m not sure he was even worthy of being drafted, looking back on it. He had 1200 yards in 3 seasons with Detroit, averaging a dismal 3.8 yards per carry. He was waived before the 2018 season, and has bounced around several rosters and practice squads since.
R3,P80: ALEX CARTER, CB
Alex Carter played 4 special teams snaps for the Detroit Lions in his career. I don’t want to waste any more time on this.
OTHER NOTABLE PICKS: QUANDRE DIGGS, CB(R6)
R1, P16: TAYLOR DECKER, OT
This is the first player on the list who is still on the Detroit Lions active roster. Decker remains the Lions starting tackle, a role he has assumed from his rookie year. He is a solid tackle, but not in the upper echelon that first round tackles are expected to be in. Still, the Lions are probably still happy with this pick today.
R2, P46: A’SHAWN ROBINSON, DT
A’shawn Robinson was a decent player while on the Lions, but once again, not close to worthy of a second round pick. He was Signed by the Rams after Detroit let him walk when his rookie contract expired in 2020.
R3, P95: GRAHAM GLASGOW, C/OG
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: the Lions drafted an offensive lineman in the first 3 rounds and he didn’t stay in Detroit after his rookie contract. Glasgow was fine in 4 years with the Lions. It’s hard to say different things about Glasgow when there are 4 other players exactly like him on this list.
OTHER NOTABLE PICKS: NONE
R1, P21: JARRAD DAVIS, ILB
The Lions swung and missed on yet another first round draft selection, this time spending their pick on Florida Linebacker Jarrad Davis. Davis was a liability in his first 3 seasons in coverage, and he had trouble consistently reaching the backfield as a pass rusher. While he did show some improvement in 2020, it was not enough for the front office to pick up his fifth year option. He spent 2021 with the New York Jets, but his play did not improve. He is currently on the Lions practice squad.
R2, P53: TEEZ TABOR, CB
The Lions decided to pick another player from the University of Florida, this time selecting Teez Tabor. He started 5 games, and was consistently outmatched by receivers when he was on the field. He was waived after his second season- and has only appeared in 9 games since, mostly on special teams.
R3, P96: KENNY GOLLADAY, WR
Detroit´s 2017 draft was not all doom and gloom. With their third round selection, the Lions hit on Kenny Golladay. While his peak was short, both his 2018 and 2019 season were fantastic; Receiving pro bowl honors in the latter. People seem to forget how good he really was in those 2 years. However, due to the lack of longevity, I can’t give this pick anything more than a B+.
OTHER NOTABLE PICKS: JAMAL AGNEW, S/KR(RD5)
R1, P20: FRANK RAGNOW, C
Frank Ragnow has consistently been one of the best centers in the league from the moment he took over the starting center role in his rookie year. The only thing holding this pick back from being an A+ is the fact that his body of work is affected by his injury shortened 2021 season. Still, there is no reason to believe that Ragnow won´t be the starting center in Detroit in the foreseeable future.
R2, P43: KERRYON JOHNSON, RB
After a promising rookie season, Kerryon Johnson completely fell off the face of the earth. He averaged a putrid 3.6 yards per carry in his sophomore campaign, and the writing was on the wall when the Lions drafted his replacement in D’andre Swift just 2 years later. After another awful season, Johnson was Waived in 2021 and hasn’t touched a football in a game since.
R3,P82: TRACY WALKER, DB/S
Tracy Walker looked like a lost cause after his rookie season. In fairness to him, cornerback is one of the hardest positions to adjust to at a professional level. But after he switched to safety, his talent began to reveal itself through steady improvements from 2019-2021. His first 3 games in 2022 brought heavy optimism. Not only was he performing well on the field, but his attitude fits perfectly with the locker room. Unfortunately, Walker suffered a season ending injury so the grade is mediocre.
OTHER NOTABLE PICKS: NONE
R1, P8: TJ HOCKENSON, TE
It always seems like TJ Hockenson is about to break out. However, he hasn’t quite lived up to the potential that he has shown throughout his professional career. He has been a top 10 tight end in receiving yards for the duration of his tenure in Detroit, but Lions fans are looking for him to take that next step.
R2, P43: JAHLANI TAVAI, ILB
Tavai only lasted 2 years in a Lions uniform, and those 2 years were lackluster at best. He is now a member of the New England Patriots.
R3, P81: WILL HARRIS, DB
Will Harris is a fine player, nothing more. He is a rotational piece in a struggling Lions secondary, which says all that needs to be said. His grade is saved by being a 3rd round pick, and the fact that he is still contributing to the team today.
OTHER NOTABLE PICKS: AMANI ORUWARIYE, CB(R5)
R1, P3: JEFF OKUDAH, DB,
This is where the grades start to become incomplete. Jeff Okudah had an awful start to his career, with poor play in his rookie season and a season ending injury in 2021. He was already being written off as a bust coming into the 2022 season, but he is completely flipping that narrative on its head through his first 5 games. It hurts to give this pick a D+, but I am not taking into account my projections for a specific player. And the bottom line is, his first 2 years in the league were an F-, whether it was his fault or not.
R2, P35: D’ANDRE SWIFT, RB
D’andre swift is probably the toughest pick to grade on this list. He had a good rookie season, and it was clear Detroit had its running back of the future. 2021 was a small step back, as Swift was one of the most inefficient rushers in the league despite the nice counting stats. He came out of the gates flying in 2022, being a threat on the ground and as a receiver. But the sample size is extremely small due to lingering ankle problems stemming from the week 3 game against the Vikings.
R3, P67: JULIAN OKWARA, DE
Once again, it hurts to give this grade. Julian Okwara is a very talented player that has potential to wreak havoc on offenses, but he simply hasn’t played enough snaps to warrant a higher grade than an F.
OTHER NOTABLE PICKS: NONE
R1, P7: PENEI SEWELL, OT
Penei Sewell was a player that was not expected to fall to #7 in the draft, as the physical specimen out of Oregon was projected to go to a Bengals team with a depleted O line at the time. When they opted to take WR Jamarr Chase instead, it was a no brainer for the Lions to pick Sewell. He has been everything scouts projected and more. However, his classmate Rashawn Slater has played at an all pro level in his short career. I’m sure Brad Holmes isn’t kicking himself over the decision to draft Sewell.
R2, P41: LEVI ONWUZURIKE, DE
Onwuzurike has not started a game yet and is currently on injured reserve. This grade is incomplete.
R3, P72: ALIM MCNEIL, DT
McNeil has been a solid space eating defensive tackle in 2022. Again, these grades are more of a formality.
OTHER NOTABLE PICKS: AMON-RA ST. BROWN(R4)