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.
For that reason, we start our first round review with the year 2005, the first draft Mayhew would have been intimately involved in with the Lions. 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 or not that pick ended up being a good call.
The pick: 10th
The player selected: Mike Williams, WR, USC
The player's credentials at the time: Williams was a star at USC. At 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, he had 176 catches for 2,579 yards and 30 touchdowns in two seasons with the Trojans. He tried to declare for the NFL draft after his sophomore season and hired an agent after a lawsuit by Maurice Clarett seemed to abolish the rule where draft-eligible players had to be out of high school for three seasons. When the initial ruling was overturned, Williams tried to be reinstated to USC for his junior season and the NCAA denied that petition.
Still, Williams was one of the top players in his class and one of the top wide receivers in the country. Yet Millen apparently didn't want to draft Williams in 2005, as his son said during the NFL Network's “A Football Life” special on Millen.
Did the pick make sense at the time: If the Lions wanted to construct a dynamic offense, yes. Williams was a freakish athlete with immense skills and could have caused major headaches for opposing secondaries -- think what Chicago has now with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. But as Millen's son said in "A Football Life," his father also liked Ware, who was a pass-rusher with his own set of freakish skills.
Did it end up being a good pick: No. Not even close. Williams had 127 catches for 1,526 yards and five touchdowns in his five seasons in the NFL, less numbers than he put up in his two seasons at USC. He had more than 500 yards receiving in a season only once -- 2010 in Seattle -- and that was the only year where he caught more than one touchdown pass. For a top 10 pick, Williams did not pan out at all for Detroit or anyone else who signed him.
Who should the Lions have taken: While hindsight would have said Rodgers would have been the obvious player to take, the team was still committed to Joey Harrington after drafting him with the No. 3 pick in 2002. He had also come off his best statistical season, throwing for 19 touchdowns and 12 interceptions -- the only time in his career where he would throw for more scores than picks. But Harrington appeared to be slowly improving.
Millen would have been correct in taking Ware, who has made 576 tackles and had 117 sacks since being drafted by Dallas with the No. 11 pick in 2005 -- one slot after the Lions passed on him. Ware made seven Pro Bowls, was named first-team All-Pro four times and was the NFC Defensive Player of the Year in 2008.
What can Detroit learn from this: This draft could actually provide a smart blueprint for Detroit in regard to May's draft. The Lions are flirting with taking a wide receiver -- perhaps Texas A&M's Mike Evans -- to pair with Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate in hopes of creating a dynamic offense. But the Detroit defense is full of positions in need of upgrades, and if there is a player who can make an impact on defense -- like linebacker Anthony Barr from UCLA, defensive tackle Aaron Donald from Pitt or cornerback Justin Gilbert from Oklahoma State -- available at No. 10, upgrading the defense should be the priority over adding to the offense that early. If the Lions had taken Ware, the team's entire last decade might have changed.