When we look at the Detroit Lions’ draft classes between 2008 and 2010, it’s important to remember that the 2008 group was the handiwork of a certain Matt Millen, who ultimately found himself fired weeks into a season that would end with the Lions going winless.
So let’s examine the last Millen draft, and the first two of the Mayhew regime by putting them through the Draft Grader. That means every pick gets a grade between +2.0 and -2.0 (in 0.5 increments) that depends upon:
• Where they were drafted
• Their performance
• Their contribution (how many snaps their team got out of them)
• Other factors such as unforeseen injuries and conditions that could not have been accounted for
Let’s take a look at how the Lions drafted.
+2.0: You’ve just found Tom Brady in the 6th round
Nope, but then they had the first overall pick in 2009, so they didn’t really need to.
+1.5: Getting much more than you bargained for!
Cliff Avril, DE (92nd overall pick in 2008): When Detroit look back on the last draft class of Matt Millen, they can at least thank him for landing the excellent Cliff Avril. Picked up the seventh-highest grade of all 4-3 DE’s for his pass rushing in 2010 and was Top 20 in 2011. There’s a reason he was franchise-tagged, and it’s his ability to consistently generate pressure.
+1.0: The scouts nailed it!
Matthew Stafford, QB (1st overall pick in 2009): It’s taken Stafford some time to start to realize his potential, but his finish to 2011 was exactly what Lions fans had been waiting to see. Has the tools to take advantage of the weapons at his disposal, but needs to step up his game, especially when he’s under pressure.
Ndamukong Suh, DT (2nd overall pick in 2010): The media did a great job of overhyping Suh’s rookie season as if it was the greatest of all time, yet when the numbers dropped a year later (without a real drop in performance) and with some off the field stuff, they turned to bury him. In truth, Suh is a rare talent, but still has areas of his game (hello Mr. Trap Block and Sir Draw Play) to work on.
Willie Young, DE (213th overall pick in 2010): When Kyle Vanden Bosch finally decides he’s had enough, the Lions may be about to stumble onto something special when Young gets more snaps. Just seven snaps as a rookie, but that number was up to 259 a year later where he earned a mammoth +11.7 grade for his efforts. Young could be a pass-rushing star.
+0.5: Never hurts to find a solid contributor
Kevin Smith, RB (64th overall pick in 2008): The first pick of the 2008 third round, Smith has always produced when the Lions have got him on the field. While he may never dominate, he’s proved a good backup who is extremely able in the passing game.
Louis Delmas, S (33rd overall pick in 2009): May lack the elite physical tools of some safeties, but Delmas has helped shore up the Lions’ defense. Coming off his worst season since entering the league, the former second round pick will be looking for a better 2012.
Sammie Lee Hill, DT (115th overall pick in 2009): After a rookie year that showed Hill as not quite NFL-ready, he has since taken a big step up to become a valuable part of the Lions’ defensive rotation.
Dan Gronkowski, TE (255th overall pick in 2009): Spent time on the practice squad and then played 17 snaps on offense before eventually being traded for former second round pick Alphonso Smith. Lions were able to turn him into something.
0.0: It could have been worse
Jerome Felton, FB (146th overall pick in 2008): Developed into an adequate lead blocker in an offense that doesn’t really champion that position.
Landon Cohen, DT (216th overall pick in 2008): Played considerably in the first year of Jim Schwartz, but wasn’t up to the standard he wanted and was gone after playing 431 snaps for the team.
Caleb Campbell, S (218th overall pick in 2008): After being drafted in 2008, wasn’t able to sign with the team for another two years after he had to complete his duty with the army. Bounced between practice squad and active roster where he ended up making two special teams tackles in 2010.
Brandon Pettigrew, TE (20th overall pick in 2009): The former first round pick was meant to be an NFL-ready tight end, but Pettigrew has struggled to become that complete player. Has emerged as a reliable receiver, even if he does suffer from the dropsies all too often.
DeAndre Levy, LB (76th overall pick in 2009): While Levy has at times look like a productive player, too often he is handled all too easily and found out of position in coverage. His -15.0 grade over three years is a testament to that.
Aaron Brown, RB (192nd overall pick in 2009): A weapon the Lions tried to make use out of, but ultimately have only got on the field for 195 snaps.
Lydon Murtha, T (228th overall pick in 2009): Murtha was taken off the Lions’ practice squad by a Dolphins team that still have him on their roster.
Zack Follet, LB (235th overall pick in 2009): Looked like a player who would excel as a career special teamer before a serious neck injury ended his run.
Jahvid Best, RB (30th overall pick in 2010): The Lions knew there was a risk with his concussion history and so it has proved. Best has at times delivered the goods on the field but he’s got a long way to go to live up to and surpass his drafting.
Jason Fox, T (128th overall pick in 2010): The former fourth round pick has just 26 career snaps to his name, emphasizing how hard he has found it to stay healthy since entering the league. Make-or-break year coming up for him.
Tim Toone, WR (255th overall pick in 2010): Spent time on the Lions’ practice squad without ever cracking the game day roster.
-0.5: That pick was not put to good use
Gosder Cherilus, T (17th overall pick in 2008): There are worse tackles in the league than Cherilus, but that’s not all that comforting when you consider the Lions spent a first round pick on a player who has earned a -19.5 grade over four years. Got better with time, but the Lions are far from comfortable with him at right tackle.
Jordan Dizon, LB (45th overall pick in 2008): Made just 280 snaps in two years, with both his first two years ending on injured reserve after he failed to make much of an impression. A final injury a year later ended his Lions career.
Andre Fluellen, DT (87th overall pick in 2008): Is he a defensive end or is he a defensive tackle? His ability to play two spots is about the only thing going for Fluellen who has been something of a disappointment as a third round pick. His -16.7 grade over four years is indicative of the Lions being better when he’s not on the field.
Kenneth Moore, WR (136th overall pick in 2008): The former fifth-rounder was cut quickly enough that he spent most of his rookie year on the practice squad for Carolina.
Amari Spievey, S (66th overall pick in 2010): Big things were expected out of Spievey who struggled as the free safety in the Lions’ defense. Finished 2011 our 12th-lowest-ranked safety, looking a little lightweight when coming down to help in the run game (while taking some horrible angles). Work to do.
-1.0: What a waste!
Derrick Williams, WR (82nd overall pick in 2009): The Lions appeared to have used up all their wide receiver luck on drafting Calvin Johnson. Williams was a major disappointment, earning a quite remarkable -11.0 grade on just 361 snaps in two years with the team. Caught just nine balls for the Lions.
-1.5: The scouts/ coaches failed, big time!
-2.0: You just drafted the love child of Jamarcus Russell and Ryan Leaf!
No Russell/ Leaf hybrids in this draft.
The first thing you notice when comparing the 2008 classes to both 2009 and 2010 is that Matt Millen’s last draft class leaves a lot to be desired. The Cliff Avril selection is its saving grace, but it didn’t do a particularly good job of finding productive starters. 2009 proved far more successful in that regard with five of the first six picks all finding ways to contribute. The jury will remain out on 2010, as injuries, player development and off the field issues have raised a number of question marks that the Lions will be hoping for positive answers from in the future. Some big successes and mild disappointments, but overall, a good crop that has helped turn the Lions into a playoff team.