In terms of the Detroit Lions, the franchise has had an up and down history of selecting fresh talent in the draft. They have drafted legends among the greats but has often had trouble finding “steals” in later rounds. Changing this trend would be imperative to sustained success going forward for the Lions.
But which players, in the history of the franchise, were successful steals in the draft? Here are five guys that instantly come to mind.
Joe Schmidt – Linebacker – Round 7, 85th Ovr, 1953 NFL Draft
We start by going back. Way back. Universally regarded as one of the best players in the history of the Lions franchise, Joe Schmidt was passed on for 7 rounds in the 1953 draft before Detroit took a shot on the undersized defender. His stats will never truly tell the tale of his true might on the field, although they are great as well (he once recorded more than half of the team’s total tackles and was especially adept at stripping the football). Schmidt would go on to appear in ten Pro Bowls and was a first-team All-Pro eight times. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1973.
Charlie Sanders – Tight End – Round 3, 74th Ovr, 1968 NFL Draft
The late, great Charlie Sanders was an absolute beast of a tight end for the Lions in the 70’s. Of course, his stats doesn’t add up to what tight ends are doing presently but in his day, he was a dangerous receiver and very effective blocker for the Lions. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2007 and former players and friends alike praise him as one of the better players and people in the NFL’s history.
Barry Sanders – Running Back – 1st Round, 3rd Ovr, 1989 NFL Draft
I know, I know. Barry Sanders doesn’t qualify as a later-round steal. But he was a steal nonetheless, from a team that the Lions would love to steal from more often. The Green Bay Packers. With Barry Sanders (along with Deion Sanders and Derrick Thomas) sitting on the draft board, the Pack decided to wager on Michigan State offensive lineman Tony Mandarich. Mandarich would go on to play only three seasons for Green Bay with nothing to show for it. Safe to say that was the wrong decision. I can only compare the selection to the Pistons passing on Carmelo/Wade/Bosh for Darko in 2003. Title costing mistake.
Yale Lary – Defensive Back/Punter – 3rd Round, 24th Ovr, 1952 NFL Draft
Another slide, another Hall of Fame player for the Lions. This time we have Yale Lary. The Lions took a flyer on Lary in the third round of the 52′ draft and there is no doubt he was instrumental in bringing the franchise three NFL championships in the 1950’s. For starters, he played on defense and special teams for the Lions as a defensive back and punter. He averaged 45 or more yards a punt six times and had 4 or more interceptions on defense six times. On top of all that he was also one of the most dangerous kick returners of his era. Talk about a jack-of-all-trades. Lary was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979.
Lem Barney – Defensive Back – 2nd Round, 24th Ovr, 1967 NFL Draft
You’re probably wondering why so many “old guys” occupy this list and the answer is simple: the Lions have been just that horrible at late round drafting in its history but the few players they have hit on became NFL legends. Here we have none other than dynamite cornerback Lem Barney. Infamous for his lighting fast instincts and ball skills, he intercepted ten passes in his rookie season and logged over 56 in his Hall of Fame career. In 1997, the Detroit Free Press named Barney the best corner in the history of the league. On top of all that, he was a singer and famously backed up Marvin Gaye on the Motown Record “What’s Going On”. Yeah, he was cool.