Dreams and Nightmares: The History of the Detroit Lions drafting with third pick

In a few days, Detroit Lions fans across the state will experience their “Super Bowl”.

That’s right, It’s DRAFT DAY!

With two underwhelming seasons under head coach Matt Patricia, the Lions find themselves in a familiar position; another top-ten draft pick for consecutive seasons. Last year with the eighth pick, they took tight end T.J. Hockenson from Iowa. Hockenson showed promise in his NFL debut. He had six receptions for 131 yards and one touchdown.

His 131 yards were the most by a tight end in an NFL debut. Unfortunately for Hockenson, his season cut short due to injuries. He finished with 32 receptions for 367 yards and two touchdowns. Because of this, the verdict is out on whether Hockenson is a hit or miss.

Sadly, that is the history of the Lions drafting at number three.

They either hit big, or they miss big.

For the sixth time in NFL draft history, the Lions will have the third overall pick. Let’s take a look at their previous selections in this slot.


Cassady came to the Lions arguably one of (if not) the most accomplished college football player during that time. He was a two-time national player of the year, national champion, Maxwell award winner, and Heisman Trophy winner. Even though his NFL career wasn’t as stellar as his collegiate one, he was a member of their 1957 NFL Championship team. In the Lions 59-19 victory over the Cleveland Browns that year for the title, Cassady caught a 17-yard pass from Jerry Reichow for the game’s final touchdown.


Robinson’s career was simply that of a Hall of Famer. Unfortunately for the Lions, it wasn’t with their organization. Although he was their third pick in the 1960 NFL Draft, he was also a first-round draft pick in the 1960 AFL (American Football League) Draft for the Dallas Texans. Robinson chose to begin his pro career with the Texans, who would later change their name to the Kansas City Chiefs. His contributions in both the AFL and NFL (post-merger) earned him an induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2019. In the AFL, he was a six-time AFL All-Star, seven-time All-AFL team honors, and three-time AFL Champion. In the NFL, he’s a one-time Pro-Bowler, first-team All-Pro, and Super Bowl champion. Additionally, he led the league in interceptions in both the AFL (1966) and the NFL (1970) one time apiece.


 Blades, to his credit, is still a fan-favorite amongst the Detroit Lions faithful. Regarded as one of the more physical defensive backs during his era, Blades was instrumental in leading the Lions to two NFC Central titles and their lone NFC Championship game appearance (1991). In 1988, he earned All-Pro honors and was a Pro-Bowler in 1991. He posted back to back 100-tackle season (1988 & 89) his first two years in the league, while also winning the team’s defensive MVP in 1992. By multiple accounts, many regard him as their best defensive back in history. He finished his career with 772 tackles, 14 interceptions, and nine forced fumbles, and 11 fumbles recoveries.


Sanders is beyond being the best player in Lions history; he’s arguably the greatest running back of all-time. In only 10 seasons, he amassed 15,269 rushing yards, averaging five yards per rush and 99 rushing touchdowns. Throughout his illustrious career, he was Pro Bowler and made the All-Pro team each season. In addition to that, he’s a former league MVP, led the league in rushing four times, and is a two-time offensive player of the year. In 1997, he became only the third player (at that time) in league history to rush for over 2,000 yards (2,053) in a single season.

Sanders was a highlight reel waiting to happen, keeping fans in awe with his elusiveness, and ability to evade defenders. He abruptly retired before the start of the 1999-2000 season at the age of 30. Barring injury, Sanders was on pace to surpass Walter Payton that season as NFL’s All-Time leader in rushing yards. He was an inductee in the 2004 Pro Football Hall of Fame class.


Harrington’s pro football career is synonymous with a familiar saying. “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Harrington came to Detroit as a highly touted quarterback from his tenure at Oregon, and rightfully so. While there, he was named the Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year (2001) and Heisman Trophy Finalist (2001). He led Oregon to a 38-16 win over Colorado in the 2002 Fiesta Bowl, throwing for 350 yards and four touchdowns. However, his collegiate success didn’t equal a great professional career. He went back and forth as a starter and second-string quarterback due to erratic changes in the coaching staff and front office. Harrington’s time in Detroit was cut to four seasons, before being out of the league altogether two seasons later.

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