A writer has listed the best draft pick in each NFL team’s history, and the pick for the Detroit Lions is inarguable.
If you comb through Detroit Lions draft history…..well, first you’re stronger than most people, at least beyond those who might do it for a work purpose. Second, you’ll find a lot more misses at the top of the draft than big hits. It’s quite ugly.
The early results of Brad Holmes first two drafts as Lions’ general manager offer hope for the future, and perhaps a future contender or two for the “best draft pick in team history.”
But right here, right now, Matt Verderame of SI.com has taken a run a determining the best draft pick in each NFL team’s history. Best is not necessarily best value, merely the sheer best as Verderame made sure to described the premise, but value was a differentiator where it had to be to determine the one for each franchise.
Best draft pick in Detroit Lions history cannot be argued at all
For the Lions, who did Verderame have as their best draft pick ever? Perhaps lucky for him, the options were pretty thin. But the choice was still obvious, and inarguable.
Barry Sanders, RB, 1989
It’s impossible to overstate the greatness of Sanders. Drafted in the first round out of Oklahoma State, Sanders played 10 years for an underwhelming Lions franchise, with quarterbacks such as Scott Mitchell, Rodney Peete and Erik Kramer.
Still, Sanders never rushed for less than 1,115 yards and was a Pro Bowler every year of his career, while also being named a first-team All-Pro six times. Sanders also earned co-MVP honors in 1997, rushing for 2,053 yards. If he hadn’t retired at 30 years old, Sanders might have rushed for 20,000 career yards.
Sanders getting to 20,000 career rushing yards if he had played longer might be a reach. But two more seasons like his final one (1,491 yards in 1998), with 18,251 yards in that hypothetical, and he would be right behind Emmitt Smith (18,355 yards) in second place on the all-time rushing list.
And with one more year after that where he basically suited up at all, at age-33 in 2001, Sanders would be the NFL’s all-time leading rusher. Smith hung on through his age-35 season (2004) on a second team to pass and clear Walter Payton by roughly 1,600 yards. Smith has the raw number of rushing yards, but he’d come in third if we were ranking him, Sanders and Payton by talent level.
Calvin Johnson, the No. 2 overall pick in 2007, deserves an honorable mention as the best draft pick in Lions’ history.
But Sanders can’t be argued as the one wholly worthy of the honor, and Lions fans can still wonder what might have been if he had just played a little longer.