Detroit Lions: Ernie Sims

Much of the chatter around the Detroit Lions and the NFL draft in the past few days has been about the secondary. Many mock drafts -- including the ones at and the NFLNation mock draft -- had the Lions trying to solidify the defensive backfield.

It’s an area Detroit has not addressed with a first-round pick in a long time. How long? The last time the Lions selected a safety in the first round, no prospect in this year’s draft was born.

Cornerback is a little bit more recent, but Detroit still played in the Silverdome when that player was picked.

So here is a look at the Lions’ draft history from the prism of the last time the team selected each position group in the first round.

Quarterback: 2009, Matthew Stafford, Pick 1. How that worked out -- He has already emerged as one of the top quarterbacks in franchise history and became the fastest player to throw for 16,000 career yards. He holds the Lions record for career passing yards with 17,457 and has only played five seasons.

Running back: 2010, Jahvid Best, Pick 30. How that worked out -- He had concussion issues before he entered the league and that continued in the NFL. By the 2013 season, he was already out of the league.

Wide receiver: 2007, Calvin Johnson, Pick 2. How that worked out -- Johnson has become one of the top wide receivers in NFL history, in the same conversation as Jerry Rice. He has played in 101 games, made 572 catches for 9,328 yards and 66 touchdowns.

Tight end: 2009, Brandon Pettigrew, No. 20. How that worked out -- Pettigrew re-signed with the Lions this offseason for three more years. He has had some inconsistencies but can both run routes and is a very good blocker on the line of scrimmage. He has 284 catches for 2,828 yards and 16 touchdowns, but has only played in all 16 games twice in his five seasons.

Offensive tackle: 2012, Riley Reiff, No. 23. How that worked out -- Reiff was the third tackle in his rookie year and became the team’s starting left tackle in 2013. He gave up seven sacks in 2013, but was part of one of the better offensive lines in the NFL. Depending what happens in the draft, he could end up at guard in the next couple of seasons.

Offensive guard: 1996, Jeff Hartings, No. 23. How that worked out -- Hartings started for five seasons at right guard for the Lions, but it wasn’t until he went to Pittsburgh in 2001 that he flourished, becoming a two-time All-Pro for the Steelers ... at center.

Center: 1945, Frank Szymanski, No. 6. How that worked out -- Technically, Hartings is a center, but he played guard for Detroit, so that is where I listed him. Before that -- we’re looking to the pre-modern era of the NFL. Szymanski played three seasons in Detroit and then one in Philadelphia and one in Chicago. After his career ended, Szymanski became a Probate court judge in Wayne County, Mich.

Defensive end: 2013, Ezekiel Ansah, No. 5. How that worked out -- Ansah became a starter in his rookie season and played well above expectations for a player initially viewed as raw and somewhat of a project. Ansah led all rookies with eight sacks and was the first pick of Martin Mayhew’s strongest draft.

Defensive tackle: 2011, Nick Fairley, No. 13. How that worked out -- Fairley has been an inconsistent player throughout his career with Detroit. At points, he can be dominant. At other times, he disappears and is inconsistent. This led to the Lions not picking up his fifth-year option, an option that came with little risk.

Linebacker: 2006, Ernie Sims, No. 9. How that worked out -- He played four seasons in Detroit before moving on to Philadelphia, Indianapolis and then the past two years with Dallas. He has made 419 career tackles.

Cornerback: 1998, Terry Fair, No. 20. How that worked out -- Fair was better known as a return specialist throughout his career, but had 171 career tackles and seven interceptions in four seasons with the Lions. Now retired, he is an assistant coach at the University of Tennessee.

Safety: 1988, Bennie Blades, No. 3. How that worked out -- Blades played 10 seasons in the NFL -- nine of them with the Lions. He started 125 games for Detroit and had 14 career interceptions between the Lions and Seattle. He also recovered 11 fumbles and made 772 tackles.
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.