With the 2020 NFL Draft concluding, let’s take a look back at the last decade of 1st round picks for the lions. I will be giving each pick a grade, and go into some depth about how the players' career was in Detroit. I will be grading the players on their time in Detroit, and how I expect them to perform in the upcoming years.
Photo by Jackson Zako. Matthew Stafford, Detroit's 1st overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, gets ready to take the snap from the shotgun formation on Oct 27, 2019, vs. New York Giants.
2010: DT Ndamukong Suh, A-
Ndamukong Suh was picked 2nd overall by the Lions, and had a good resume for the 5 years he spent with the team from 2010-2014. Being 6’4 and 313 lbs, with one of the quickest reaction times scouts had ever seen. The Lions were sure he would be a good pick, and he was. His rookie season he won Defensive Rookie of the Year, was First Team All-Pro, and made the Pro Bowl. He would go on to make 3 more Pro Bowls with the Lions, and be First Team All-Pro for two more years. In 2015, he went into Free Agency and signed with the Dolphins.
2011: DT Nick Fairley, D
Lions fans always scratched their heads at this pick in the 13 spot. A year after drafting a defensive lineman with the 2nd pick, they go and take another one? This pick didn’t make sense, and it didn’t work out for the Lions either. Fairley played with the Lions until 2014, getting minimal playing time, his best season being 2013 when he had 6 sacks. Fairley went to Free Agency after the 2014 season, signing with the Rams and later the Saints. Fairley has been out of the NFL for 3 years.
2012: OT Riley Reiff, B-
Reiff started at LT half his rookie season, and went on to hold that job until 2017, when he went to Minnesota. Reiff was a solid blindside blocker for QB Matt Stafford, but he had some troubles in the run game. He wasn’t the strongest, so run blocking and creating holes is not his best attribute. Overall, he did his job, but with a combination of other bad lineman and running backs, he never really fit with Detroit. However, Reiff is making a big impact with the Vikings, helping them win division titles, while the Lions are stuck at the bottom of the NFC North.
2013: DE Ezekiel Ansah, B
Nicknamed Ziggy, he cemented a defensive line that needed help, and put up good numbers while doing it. His first 2 seasons in the league he had 8 sacks, and then 7.5. But his breakout year would come in 2015, when he put up a monster 14.5 sacks and 4 forced fumbles, and was selected to the Pro-Bowl. Sadly, he regressed immensely his next year, having only 2 sacks in 13 games. In 2017 he looked like his old self, and had 12 sacks and a forced fumble. He was franchise tagged in 2018, but was released in 2019 to be picked up by the Seattle Seahawks.
2014: TE Eric Ebron, C-
Ebron looked promising coming out of college, but was very underwhelming his first couple years in the league. He dropped many passes and had trouble in the run game blocking. He was with the Lions for 4 years, his best seasons being 2015, where he had 537 yds and 5 Tds, and 2016, where he had 711 yds and a td. He was never the red zone threat the Lions thought they were getting, but after he left Detroit and went to Indianapolis, he thrived. Ebron found the endzone 16 times in 2 years with the Colts, while only scoring 11 touchdowns in 4 years with the Lions. Ebron signed a deal with the Steelers this offseason.
2015: LG Laken Tomlinson, D+
Tomlinson was another failed attempt to try and find some blocking for Matt Stafford. He was with the Lions for 2 seasons, and started for roughly 75% of the games. He never really broke out as a blocker, and was kind of just a fill in because the Lions had no one better. After the 2016 season he was off to San Francisco, where he has started every game he’s played there since, including going to the Super Bowl last season. He’s an example of many Lions that have failed in Detroit, and went on to another team to succeed.
2016: OT Taylor Decker, B
Decker had a pretty good rookie season, starting every game at LT. He missed half of the 2017 season with a torn labrum in his shoulder, but still started 8 games that year. Since then, he has started every game he’s played in, and only missed one game. He’s a solid blindside man for Stafford, and hopefully can keep developing to be an elite pass blocker.
2017: MLB Jarrad Davis, B
Davis was a safe choice, and he’s been the Lions MLB and defensive leader since his rookie season. His rookie year he had 96 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 interception, as well as 1 forced fumble and a fumble recovery. 2018, he hit the 100 tackle mark, while also getting 6 sacks, and 1 forced fumble and recovery. 2019 he missed 5 games, and his stats left much to be desired, only acquiring 63 tackles and 2 sacks.
2018: G/C Frank Ragnow, B+
Ragnow started every game at LG his rookie season, and filled in at C in 2019, starting 15 games there. He’s cemented himself in the Lions offensive line core, and has been good in the run game as well as pass blocking. He’s allowed 6 sacks over the last 2 years, which can improve, but isn’t bad for a young developing guy.
2019: TE TJ Hockenson, C+
After getting comparisons to Rob Gronkowski, his rookie season was quite a disappointment. Playing in only 12 games and starting 7 of them, he caught 32 passes for 367 yds and 2 tds. His catch percentage was only 54.2%. His season had a lot of injuries, and many Lions fans were let down by who was supposed to be the next Gronk. He does look promising if he can stay healthy, but only time will tell. If Hockenson wants to be an elite pass catching tight end, his catch percentage needs to go way up, and he has to take advantage of every time the ball gets thrown his way.
The 2020 draft was one of a kind, and fans will never forget it. Hosted in the basement of Roger Goodell, the Lions took cornerback Jeff Okudah with the 3rd overall pick. It is uncertain what the future holds for the NFL amidst a world health crisis, and this new draft class may have to wait a lot longer to finally get out on the field. The Lions organization seems to be ecstatic about their recent draft class, and hopefully it can help the team win a playoff game. Last time that happened was 1991, when Barry Sanders was the team's workhorse.
Photo by Jackson Zako. My brother, AJ (middle right), and I (middle left) at the Lions vs. Giants game on Oct 27, 2019, with our dad (right) and our dad's friend, Mr. Allen (left).