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Top Three Draft Picks in Detroit Lions History

Things are finally starting to look up for the Detroit Lions. They won their first divisional title in 30 years, made it to the NFC Championship Game and NFL odds have them making a run in the postseason once again next season.

A couple of strong drafts and a new head coach, whom NFL expert picks had as a finalist for Coach of the Year last season, have helped in the turnaround, with head coach Dan Campbell ushering in what seems like a new era in Detroit.

Top Three Draft Picks in Detroit Lions History
Former NFL player Barry Sanders of the Detroit Lions/Gregory Shamus/Getty Images/AFP

Though it’s been a long road for Detroit and Lions’ fans alike, it doesn’t mean the team hasn’t had some legendary players for fans to cheer for every Sunday. Let’s take a look back at a few of those top draft picks before the next 2024 NFL Draft kicks off this coming April.


1. Barry Sanders, RB, 1989

One of the most legendary Lions, Sanders was drafted third overall and spent all of his 10 seasons with Detroit. One of the most electrifying runners of the NFL, Sanders became just the third player to rush for over 2,000 yards in one season.

Though he unfortunately retired early, Sanders lit it up during his time in the league, rushing for over 1,000 yards in all 10 of his seasons and scoring at least 10 touchdowns six times. He was named the league’s co-MVP in 1997, the year he gained over 2,000 yards, rushing for over 100 yards in an NFL-record 14 straight regular-season games.

Sanders finished his career as a first- or second-team All Pro in all 10 seasons and made the Pro Bowl in each of his 10 years. He also became the first running back to record five 1,500-yard rushing seasons, doing it in four straight years, and held many franchise rushing records at the time of his retirement. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2004.


2. Calvin Johnson, WR, 2007

Another iconic player who hung it up too early, “Megatron” was Detroit’s second overall pick in 2007. An all-around dominant player, Johnson played in 130 of 135 games in his career.

Though his career was short-lived, it was a superb one as he recorded over 1,000 yards receiving in seven of his nine seasons, including his final six years. Johnson earned the scoring title in 2010, while he ended his career with 731 receptions for 11,619 yards and 83 touchdowns.

Those stats are still Detroit’s career records for most receptions and receiving yards. Johnson held multiple NFL records, such as most receiving yards in a season, at the time of his retirement as well. Johnson went to the Pro Bowl six straight years and was named an All-Pro three times as well. He was elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2021.


3. Lem Barney, DB, 1967

Drafted in the second round by the Lions, Barney quickly made his name known when he entered the league as a rookie in 1967. Barney had 10 interceptions his rookie year, returning three of those for a touchdown to help him earn Defensive Rookie of the Year.

His 10 interceptions tied for the NFL lead that season and also helped Barney be named to the Pro Bowl, the first of seven times it would happen in his 11-season career. However, defense wasn’t Barney’s only strong suit – he also returned two punts, one kickoff and a missed field goal for a touchdown.

Barney ended his career with 56 interceptions to rank second in Lions history, returning seven of those for touchdowns, while he recovered 11 fumbles as well. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1992.


Honorable Mentions: QB Matthew Stafford, LB Joe Schmidt

Though he’s no longer with the Lions and not yet retired, Stafford started his career and spent 12 seasons in Detroit after it selected him first overall in the 2009 NFL Draft. With Stafford, the Lions found their franchise quarterback for over a decade.

Though he never won a playoff game with the Lions, Stafford helped Detroit go from an 0-16 season the year prior to the pick to making it to the postseason three years following his arrival. Stafford’s name is written all over Detroit’s record books, from leader in completions, yards and touchdowns. He also won Comeback Player of the Year in 2011.

Going back quite a bit further, Schmidt was drafted in the seventh round of the 1953 NFL Draft. Schmidt helped develop the role of the middle linebacker, and though he was relatively unknown coming out of college, he quickly made a name for himself in the NFL.

Schmidt helped lead the Lions to an NFL title in his rookie year, getting selected to 10 Pro Bowls and named All-NFL 10 times as well. By his seventh year in the league, he was named the MVP, and he was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1973.



Questions Of The Day

When are the Detroit Lions picking in the first round of this year’s draft.

The Lions hold the No. 29 pick in the first round.

When is the NFL Draft?

The NFL draft will be held from April 25–27 in Detroit.

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