The Detroit Lions are on the clock. Well … they’re six picks away from being on the clock, with the No. 7 overall pick in this year’s NFL draft, which begins Thursday in Cleveland.
It’s the franchise’s third straight year drafting in the top 10, after a run of four years drafting in the 11-20 range. While it’s too soon to tell how those picks — T.J. Hockenson at No. 8 in 2019 and Jeff Okudah at No. 3 in 2020 — will work out in the long term, we have 54 drafts to parse since the AFL and NFL merged their draft in 1967. With that in mind, let’s look back at the good and the bad from the Lions at No. 7 (though you can probably guess where the Lions slot in, more often than not).
Let’s start in Detroit, where the Lions have selected No. 7 overall four times since the AFL/NFL merger, but not since 2004, when then-general manager Matt Millen made the pick of …
2004: WR Roy Williams
The buzz: Williams was a star for four seasons at Texas, racking up 241 catches for 3,866 yards and 36 TDs in 48 games with the Longhorns en route to a ranking as the No. 2 wideout on most draft boards. (Williams’ speed made him No. 1 on some boards, but the consensus No. 1 was Pitt’s Larry Fitzgerald.) Williams wasn’t nearly as successful right away with the Lions; he hauled in 99 of his 212 targets for 1,504 yards and 16 TDs in his first two seasons, though that was with Joey Harrington throwing to him.
In Year 3, with Jon Kitna at QB, Williams broke out with 82 catches for 1,310 yards and seven TDs, earning a Pro Bowl nod. It was his only 1,000-yard season. Williams caught 64 passes for 838 yards in 2007 and was traded to Dallas about a month after Martin Mayhew replaced Millen as GM and 15 minutes ahead of the 2008 trade deadline. Williams played three more seasons, but never caught 40 passes or reached 600 yards again.
1990: QB Andre Ware
Ware won the Heisman Trophy after putting up nearly 4,700 yards passing at Houston, playing in the run-and-shoot offense. Lions offensive coordinator Mouse Davis was an early architect of run-and-shoot — what could go wrong, especially with previous Heisman winner Barry Sanders in the backfield? Plenty, it turns out.
Drafted with the expectation he’d sit behind one of the five other QBs on the roster, Ware held out and didn’t sign until late August. Then, injuries and incompetence forced him to start in mid-November. His lasted a half, going 5-for-11 passing for 48 yards and two interceptions and was pulled for veteran Bob Gagliano in a 17-7 loss to the Vikings. The Lions shelved the run-and-shoot after the season, and Ware appeared in just 10 more games over the following three seasons — five starts — and finished with a 51.6% completion percentage for 1,112 yards, five touchdowns and eight interceptions.
1987: DE Reggie Rogers
Rogers attended Washington on a basketball scholarship, but also played football; upon focusing on the gridiron, he became a consensus All-American with 95 tackles and seven sacks as a senior. His time with the Lions was troubled even before he started training camp, clouded by the death of his brother Don from a cocaine overdose in 1986, lawsuits against his first agent and a misdemeanor assault charge from a fight with a former girlfriend. He even missed his first meeting at rookie camp.
A players’ strike disrupted his rookie season, as did a dispute with Lions coaches over his technique: “In no way am I saying the defense should be built around me,” Rogers told the Free Press in late October that year, “But they say everything I did in college was wrong. How can you be an All- America and the first defensive end taken in the draft if something you did wasn’t right? I see better when I’m up. Then I don’t worry about the blocker, but just go to the quarterback, to the ball. Doesn’t it make sense to even try it on passing downs?” Less than two weeks later, Rogers entered an emotional counseling center in Pontiac, missing more than a month. He finished his rookie season with five solo tackles.
Year 2 was worse. Demoted to the pass rush on the nickel defense, he started slowly but began to impress his coaches.
And then, on Oct. 20, 1988, a nightmare: Driving drunk, Rogers slammed his Jeep Cherokee into a Dodge Omni carrying three teenagers in downtown Pontiac. The teens were killed; Rogers suffered a broken neck and a nearly severed right thumb. Charged with three counts of felony involuntary manslaughter in April 1989 and released by the Lions in July, Rogers was finally found guilty of a lesser negligent homicide charge in December and served 12-and-a-half months in Jackson on a 16-to-24-month sentence. After prison, he attempted a comeback and played two games each with the Buffalo Bills and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
1967: RB Mel Farr
Farr averaged 6.3 yards a carry in his final two seasons at UCLA, picking up 1,630 yards and 17 TDs on 260 carries in 1965-66. He was electric as a rookie with the Lions in 1967, leading the team in rushing (206 carries, 860 yards) and receptions (39) en route to a Pro Bowl and the AP’s Offensive Rookie of the Year award. (Though he wasn’t even the Lions’ best pick that year: Second-rounder Lem Barney was the Defensive Rookie of the Year and a future Hall of Famer at DB.)
Farr’s career was limited by injuries, and he never hit those heights again; he played in 12 games in a season just once more — 1970, when he made the Pro Bowl with 166 carries for 717 yards and nine touchdowns, and 29 catches for 213 yards. Still, Farr’s most lasting contribution came 50 years ago in March: He and Barney sung backup vocals on Marvin Gaye’s hit, “What’s Going On?” (Farr also became one of the first Black Ford car dealers, opening his first in Oak Park in 1975 and growing his “Mel Farr, Superstar” empire to become the largest Black-owned company by 1998.)
Farr was the first No. 7 pick in the AFL/NFL era, but he wasn’t the greatest at the spot. Here are three of the best at their position:
2007: RB Adrian Peterson, Vikings
Peterson rushed for 4,041 yards in three seasons at Oklahoma, including 1,925 in 13 games during his 2004 freshman season, in which he finished as Heisman runner-up to USC QB Matt Leinart. He was an instant star in Minnesota, with at least 1,200 yards rushing in six of his first seven seasons — an ACL/MCL tear in 2011 left him at 970 in 12 games — and 2,097 yards rushing in 2012, good for No. 2 all-time in a single season. Since 2017, he has suited up for the Cardinals, Saints, Washington and, last season, the Lions, for whom he picked up 604 yards on 156 carries (3.9 yards per carry). He’s a free agent looking for a team, and 450 yards from passing Sanders for fourth all-time in rushing yards.
1999: CB Champ Bailey, Washington
Bailey did everything at Georgia, with 47 catches for 744 yards and five TDs on offense plus three interceptions on defense as a senior. He made an instant impact for Washington with 80 tackles and five picks in 1999, though he was snubbed for the Pro Bowl. No worries; he made it in 12 of his next 13 seasons — four times with Washington and eight times in Denver. He retired with 52 interceptions in 215 games, and was elected to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot in 2019.
1979: QB Phil Simms, Giants
Five QBs have gone at No. 7, with Buffalo’s Josh Allen the most recent. The most successful? Simms passed for 5,545 yards and 32 touchdowns at Morehead State, albeit with 45 interceptions in the Missouri Valley Conference. Simms made his first start for the Giants in Week 6 of the 1979 season — with an unimpressive 37 yards passing on six completions — but led New York to four straight wins in October that year. He played 14 seasons for the Giants, finishing with a 55.4% completion percentage, 33,462 yards passing, 199 touchdowns, 157 interceptions, two Pro Bowl nods and two Super Bowl rings.
The Lions’ picks of Rogers and Ware are arguably two of the worst at No. 7 over the past 54 drafts. Three others:
2015: WR Kevin White, Bears
White was seemingly unstoppable for West Virginia as a senior, piling up 1,447 yards receiving and 10 touchdowns on 109 catches in 2014. But his pro career has been mired with injuries, starting with a stress fracture in his left shin during OTAs as a rookie. He missed all of that season, then appeared in four games in 2016 before fracturing his left fibula. White made it one game in 2017 before fracturing his left shoulder blade. His tenure in Chicago ended with a 2018 season featuring four catches for 92 yards over nine games. After sitting out 2019, White saw limited time — with no catches — with the 49ers in 2020.
2013: OG Jonathan Cooper, Cardinals
Cooper started 48 games at North Carolina and was an All-American his senior season. But a broken left leg in Week 3 of the 2013 preseason cost him the year. He didn’t work his way into the starting lineup until Week 14 of 2014. In three seasons with the Cards, he appeared in 24 games (11 starts). A trade to the Patriots started Cooper on a journeyman run in which he saw action with Cleveland, Dallas — including 13 starts — and Washington, plus time on the roster in San Francisco and Oakland, which released him in 2019.
1986: OG Brian Jozwiak, Chiefs
At West Virginia, Jozwiak was a dominant force in becoming the Mountaineers’ sixth-ever consensus All-American. In Kansas City, however, he lasted 28 games over three seasons, including three starts before degenerative arthritis in his hips failed him in a 1989 physical and ended his career. He returned to West Virginia for his degree and became a physical education teacher and football coach in Florida.