Optimism is the name of the game with the NFL Draft. With each passing draft, all 32 teams are given the opportunity to pluck players from the college ranks to bolster their rosters.
Unfortunately, four years after the 2017 Draft, the Detroit Lions’ picks are far from spectacular.
While hindsight is always 20/20, sometimes it’s good to revisit past mistakes and hypothetically right the wrongs.
In this case, we’ll revisit the fateful 2017 Draft and look at possible avenues that former Lions GM Bob Quinn could’ve traveled instead.
Assessing the picks -- Who stuck around and who left
Of the nine players drafted by the Lions in 2017, just four played out the duration of their rookie contracts.
First-round pick Jarrad Davis, a linebacker out of Florida, had a less than spectacular tenure in Detroit. He started 45 games, made 201 solo tackles and recovered three fumbles in four years, before signing a one-year deal with the New York Jets in March.
The second rounder, Teez Tabor, had a very brief stay in Detroit. Tabor was believed to be a steal after falling out of the first round. However, Tabor never got comfortable against NFL receivers, and was gashed often, before being cut by Detroit before the start of the 2019 season.
The crown jewel of this draft class was wide receiver Kenny Golladay, the team’s third-round choice. Golladay had two 1,000-yard seasons, and looked to be a building block for the future. But, reports seem to show that he was growing unhappy with the state of the franchise.
Golladay dealt with injuries, and had a subpar year in 2020.
The Lions, now under the management of general manager Brad Holmes, elected not to franchise tag him, and the Northern Illinois product signed a four-year, $72 million deal with the New York Giants.
Toledo tight end Michael Roberts, one of two fourth-round picks, played in 15 games as a rookie, and caught four passes for 46 yards. The following season, Roberts played in eight games, and scored three touchdowns. That was his final season in Detroit, however, as Quinn then traded him to New England for a seventh-round pick.
Jalen Reeves-Maybin, the Lions' other fourth-rounder, is the only remaining member of this class. He has been serviceable on special teams, and has made a limited impact on defense. It will be interesting to see what impact he has on the defense, as one of the veterans.
Fifth-round pick Jamal Agnew was a pleasant surprise, emerging as one of the best return men in the league. As a rookie, Agnew returned two punts for touchdowns, and was a first-team All-Pro. He finished his Lions career with five special teams touchdowns, and recently signed a three-year contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Sixth-round pick Jeremiah Ledbetter, a defensive lineman, played in 16 games for the Lions as a rookie, but was cut prior to the 2018 season. He was part of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers team that won Super Bowl LV, as was 2017 seventh-round choice Pat O’Connor, who never played for the Lions.
Brad Kaaya, a quarterback from Miami, was chosen by the Lions in the sixth round, but was waived in September and has bounced around since.
Round 1: Pick 21
Original Pick: Davis
Notable players still available: S Jabrill Peppers, CB Tre’Davious White, TE David Njoku, OLB T.J. Watt, T Ryan Ramczyk
Notes: Watt was a first-team All-Pro in 2020, while White and Ramczyk were both second-team All-Pro. The Lions couldn’t have done wrong with any of these choices, though choosing a cornerback in round one would’ve likely prevented the Tabor situation from ever happening.
While having White in the secondary would certainly be nice, nothing tops the value of pass-rushers. In Watt, the Lions would have drafted one of the best ones in the game.
The secondary was in a good spot with Darius Slay and Quandre Diggs, so it’s not an immediate need.
The Lions pass on help in that aspect for an electric outside backer and pass-rusher.
New pick: Watt
Round 2: Pick 53
Original Pick: Tabor
Notable players still available: RB Alvin Kamara, CB Jourdan Lewis, S John Johnson, WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, DT Larry Ogunjobi
Notes: The latter half of the second round was heavy on defensive stalwarts. Kamara has emerged as one of the best dual-threat running backs in the league, but the Lions didn’t have a need at the position, thanks to having Ameer Abdullah as a selection the previous year.
Smith-Schuster has emerged as a phenomenal receiver, and has continued to shine following the departure of Antonio Brown.
Lewis and Johnson were both picked slightly before the Lions’ third-round choice, but we’ll include them here.
The Lions pass on defensive back help in round one. However, having another youthful weapon in the secondary would provide a lot of help, as we know now.
In this scenario, the Lions stick to the choice of DB, but get a much better one.
New pick: Lewis
Round 3: Pick 96
Original Pick: Golladay
Notable players still available: RB James Connor, WR Dede Westbrook, S Eddie Jackson, RB Tarik Cohen, DT Jaleel Johnson
Notes: Passing on Kamara still puts two solid, albeit less versatile running backs right in the laps of the Lions with their third-round pick.
However, it’s hard to pass on Golladay, after what he was able to do in his time with Detroit.
If the team was better and if Matthew Stafford hadn’t been traded, Golladay would probably still be around.
New pick: Golladay
Round 4: Picks 124 and 127
Original Picks: Reeves-Maybin and Roberts
Notable players still available: OLB Samson Ebukam, RB Jamaal Williams, TE George Kittle, S Desmond King, RB Marlon Mack
Notes: This section includes both fourth-round picks because they were only three apart.
One of the two players chosen between Reeves-Maybin and Roberts was Ebukam, who has turned out to be a serviceable role player for the Los Angeles Rams. Since Watt has already been selected, however, the Lions elect to pass on another linebacker.
Kittle is an obvious choice here. With Calvin Johnson out of the picture, the Lions get an offensive star on day three of the draft. With the other choice, the Lions elect to take a flyer on a young defensive back to learn from veterans at safety in Glover Quin and Tavon Wilson.
New picks: Kittle and King
Round 5: Pick 165
Original Pick: Agnew
Notable players still available: RB Aaron Jones, DT Davon Godchaux, S Xavier Woods, T Sam Tevi, DB Chuck Clark
Notes: This is an easy one. Sure, Agnew’s contributions on special teams were spectacular, even game-breaking at times. However, the chance to snag a running back of Jones’ caliber doesn’t come around at this point in the draft very often. In this hypothetical, the Lions don’t hesitate one bit to upgrade the backfield.
New pick: Jones
Round 6: Picks 205 and 215
Original Picks: Ledbetter and Kaaya
Notable players still available: DL Ifeadi Odenigbo, WR David Moore, RB Chris Carson
Notes: It’s not a tough decision to pass on the two original picks here. Neither did a ton in a Lions uniform.
In this redraft, the Lions opt for a defensive line depth piece in Odenigbo and add another play-making wideout in David Moore.
New picks: Odenigbo and Moore.
Round 7: Pick 250
Original Pick: O’Connor
Notable players still available: RB Austin Ekeler (UDFA), QB Taysom Hill (UDFA), FB Patrick Ricard (UDFA)
Notes: Not many options to choose from here, as there were only three picks made after O’Connor. It’s easy to pick Ekeler here, as he thrived backing up Melvin Gordon before bursting out himself. But, the Lions have already snagged one running back.
It’s hard to imagine many coaches having the creativity to use Hill the way that Sean Payton and New Orleans have, so the Lions don’t take Hill here, either. That leaves Ricard, a converted defensive lineman, who has carved out a nice career for himself as a physical fullback.
New pick: Ricard
1 (21): T.J. Watt, OLB, Wisconsin
2 (53): Jourdan Lewis, CB, Michigan
3 (96): Kenny Golladay, WR, Northern Illinois
4 (124): George Kittle, TE, Iowa
4 (127): Desmond King, S, Iowa
5 (165): Aaron Jones, RB, Texas El-Paso
6 (205): Ifeadi Odenigbo, DL, Northwestern
6 (215): David Moore, WR, East Central (Oklahoma)
7 (250): Patrick Ricard, FB, Maine
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