5 Best Detroit Lions Draft Picks of All Time

The Detroit Lions haven’t had a whole lot of success in the NFL Draft, which is why the team has gone for so long without a championship. However, there have still been some great steals and smart picks that the team has made over the years. Here are the five best Detroit Lions draft picks of all time.

5. Lem Barney (34th Overall, 1967)

The Detroit Lions held the seventh overall selection in the 1967 NFL/AFL Draft and used it to take running back Mel Farr from UCLA. Farr ended up being a solid selection for the franchise, but it wasn’t until the second round that they really found a star. With the 34th overall selection, the Lions drafted little-known cornerback Lem Barney from Jackson State, who went on to become one of the biggest steals of the draft.

Barney played for 11 NFL seasons, all with the Lions, and made the Pro Bowl seven times while also garnering All-Pro honors twice. The All-1960s team member finished with 56 career interceptions and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1992.

4. Calvin Johnson (2nd Overall, 2007)

Coming into the 2007 NFL Draft, almost everyone knew that the Oakland Raiders were going to take quarterback JaMarcus Russell with the number one pick, which turned out to be a huge bust. The big question was what the Lions would do with the second overall pick, with many thinking that they’d skip the receiver position after getting burned so many times by busts. However, the Lions did roll the dice on another receiver in the form of Georgia Tech star Calvin Johnson.

The man known as “Megatron” may have retired when he was only 30 years old, but he enjoyed one of the finest careers for a wide receiver in NFL history. He set a record for single-season yardage in 2012 with 1,964 yards and finished his career with 11,619 yards and 83 touchdowns. The three-time All-Pro was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2021.

3. Alex Karras (10th Overall, 1958)

The first nine picks of the 1958 NFL Draft were dominated by three teams, with the Cardinals, Rams, and 49ers all having two selections. After San Francisco took Jim Pace and Charlie Krueger with back-to-back picks, the Lions selected defensive tackle Alex Karras from Iowa. Karras, who was also known for his role on the sitcom “Webster”, would be the first eventual Hall of Famer drafted in 1958.

The man known as the Mad Duck played all 12 of his NFL seasons with the Lions and was named an All-Pro three times, as well as a Pro Bowler on four occasions. Despite missing a season due to a gambling suspension, Karras was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame with 100 career sacks.

2. Barry Sanders (3rd Overall, 1989)

The 1989 NFL Draft saw the Dallas Cowboys land their franchise quarterback when they selected Troy Aikman out of UCLA with the first overall pick. After the Packers took eventual bust Tony Mandarich with the second overall selection, the Lions were on the board. Despite running back not being a huge position of need, the Lions saw a once-in-a-lifetime player with Barry Sanders out of Oklahoma State and made him the third overall choice.

Sanders not only proved to be one of the best players in that year’s draft but also proved to be one of the greatest NFL players of all time. Sanders was a 10-time All-Pro, winning a slew of other awards that include a pair of AP Offensive Player of the Year honors. All in all, he rushed for 15,269 yards and 99 touchdowns while adding nearly 3,000 receiving yards.

1. Joe Schmidt (86th Overall, 1953)

For the top pick, we have to go further back than any other draft selection on the list. During the 1953 NFL Draft, there were some solid players taken early on, and the Lions picked up a pair of eventual Pro Bowl players. However, with the final pick in the seventh round, they drafted a Hall of Fame talent in the form of Pittsburgh linebacker Joe Schmidt.

Schmidt played all 13 of his NFL seasons with Detroit and was a dominant force on defense. He was named to the All-Pro team on nine occasions and finished in the top five of MVP voting twice. Schmidt was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as part of the 1973 class and helped the Lions to win two NFL Championships, including the franchise’s most recent title in 1957.

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