As the most recent list of top ten wide receiver prospects emerged this morning, its once again time to head down memory lane for Detroit Lions fans, and as we all know it is an unpleasant road to travel.
The Lions have a long and sordid history of drafting wide receivers with their first pick, but most memorable was the time period beginning with Charles Rogers as the second overall pick in 2003’s draft. Whether it was injuries, drugs or the stigma that the Houston Texans took Andre Johnson with the next pick, it is hard to argue that Rogers was anything less than a complete disaster.
After Rogers, the braintrust that was the Lions front office choose Texas wide receiver Roy Williams with their first pick in 2004. Roy Williams did have one decent season in 2006, accounting for over 1,300 yards that year, with 82 catches to his credit. A closer look shows that it took 152 targets to catch that many passes, a less than exhilarating percentage for a teams leading receiver.
Not yet discouraged, infamous general manager Matt Millen went for an unprecedented third straight first pick wide receiver with their 10th overall pick, Mike Williams in 2005. Of all the choices, this was the most scrutinized of any as Mike Williams had been out of football for a year after attempting to enter the draft after his sophomore season and missed out on his junior season as a result. Mike Williams was oversized, slow, under coached and simply ill prepared for any NFL career, let alone a first round draft selection.
Those three picks crippled the Lions. The financial investment aside, it also drained the team of talent at other positions as they were consistently attempting to make up for past mistakes. Fool me once, shame on me, fool me twice, shame on you, but three times was not a charm and the team was still lacking in talent at the position despite their efforts in the draft.
Calvin Johnson came along in 2007 and was by far the best selection of that or any other draft choice that the Lions made at the position. Giving credit to Millen for choosing Johnson would be ridiculous. Beyond the fact that Johnson was heads and tails over the talent available at the position that year, he was fairly obvious as a no-brainer pick that was being heavily lobbied for by offensive co-ordinator Mike Martz and soon to be teammate Roy Williams, who gave him the nickname Megatron. The only thing that would have lead Millen to choose someone other than Johnson would have been the nightmares of his past failures resurfacing. Thankfully for Lions fans, he did not shy away from him.
As I’ve previously pointed out, even Johnson struggled in his rookie season and the Lions still floundered to an unheard of 0-16 record in his second season(2008) as Millen’s struggles reached their climax. Lions current general manager, Martin Mayhew, was a part of Millen’s staff, and while his drafts currently appear much sounder than his predecessor, the team can not afford to spend this years draft pick on another wide receiver. They do not have time to develop a talent at the position, free agency has to be the route to go here. An experienced wide receiver to compliment Johnson and allow the team to properly take advantage of his skills is the biggest necessity the team needs to improve upon 2013’s 7-9 record and help them return to the playoffs under new coach Jim Caldwell. Free agency is awash with wide receivers that could fit into the Lions plans this year and it should be the top priority for them. It is going to cost the Lions a pretty penny in whatever manner they decide to do it, but a risk of a high dollar, high priority draft pick that will take time to develop is something they can not afford.