In May, Detroit Lions general manager Martin Mayhew will run the team for his sixth NFL draft. He'll have been involved with the team's personnel decisions, at that point, for 10 seasons.
While Mayhew's first draft as the team's actual general manager took place in 2009, he had been working with the team since the middle of the 2004 season as the Lions' assistant general manager. He did not make final decisions when it came to the draft in those first few years -- Matt Millen was still the general manager then -- he was certainly part of the group that helped influence what happened with the Lions.
In 2006, Mayhew’s second year as assistant general manager, the team was breaking in a new coach, Rod Marinelli. Over the next two weeks, we'll look at the first-round picks in each year for the Lions, who else would have been available and whether that pick ended up being a good call.
Past years: 2005
The pick: No. 9
The player selected: Ernie Sims, LB, Florida State
The player’s credentials at the time: He started 24 straight games at Florida State and was a difference-maker at linebacker. He was one of the semifinalists for the Butkus Award and had 72 tackles in 2005, his junior season. Listed at 5-foot-11 1/2 and 231 pounds with a 4.5 40-yard dash time, his combine credentials weren't blistering, but they didn't deter Matt Millen from selecting him.
Who else was available at the pick: Matt Leinart, QB, USC; Jay Cutler, QB, Vanderbilt; Haloti Ngata, DT, Oregon; Chad Greenway, LB, Iowa; Antonio Cromartie, CB, Florida State; Tamba Hali, DE, Penn State; DeAngelo Williams, RB, Memphis.
Did the pick make sense at the time: Yes. The Lions had a new coaching staff coming, which was led by a defensive mind, Rod Marinelli, and Detroit needed massive help on both offense and defense. Considering Marinelli’s background, it made sense he would go defense with his first pick. Sims was a linebacker who many believed could play every down in the NFL. He filled an absolute need at the time.
Did it end up being a good pick: He was. He played all but five games during his four seasons in Detroit, accumulating 418 tackles with 2.5 sacks and four forced fumbles. He was an effective player for the Lions before the team traded him to acquire Tony Scheffler. Sims has continued his career as he just finished his eighth season in 2013, making 41 tackles for Dallas.
Who should the Lions have taken: In retrospect, probably Cutler. The now-Chicago quarterback has turned into a franchise quarterback and could have offered stability at the position for Detroit that wouldn’t come for another four-to-five years with Matthew Stafford. But considering the Lions’ defensive issues, either Sims or Ngata would have been the smart pick at the time with a possibility of Greenway.
What can Detroit learn from this: Not much. While the Lions didn’t have Sims for a long time, he was a productive player for Detroit when he was on the field. Few players could have succeeded at that point in Detroit with a roster that ended up bottoming out with the 0-16 season in 2008. That wasn’t on Sims, as the rest of his career has proven. While grabbing a quarterback here could have helped, he was still in the range of the right selection.