It’s often said you don’t know what you have with an NFL draft class until three years have passed. With that in mind, and sticking to an annual tradition, I’ve re-evaluated the Detroit Lions’ draft from three years ago, prior to the upcoming round of rookies being added to the roster.
The 2015 draft was Martin Mayhew’s final one as the Lions general manager. Combined with his underwhelming 2014 class, it’s also a good reason he found himself out of the job six months later.
In addition to grading the individual selections, there will also be an overall mark, with the calculation weighing each pick by the draft value chart.
First round, pick No. 28
Guard Laken Tomlinson
Seeking to upgrade the offensive line, the Lions drafted Tomlinson to replace longtime starter Rob Sims at left guard. The former Duke standout didn’t take long to earn a starting job, but never came close to fulfilling the expectations that come along with being a first-round choice.
Tomlinson’s rookie season was understandably subpar as he adjusted to the size and strength of the pro game, but instead of making the anticipated developmental jump in his second season, he regressed and was benched in favor of then-rookie Graham Glasgow. Tomlinson’s footwork and quickness out of his stance were consistent issues, leading to struggles against explosive defensive tackles.
After another disappointing training camp last year, he was traded to the San Francisco 49ers for a fifth-round pick in 2019.
Second round, pick No. 54
Running back Ameer Abdullah
Abdullah’s best season was his rookie year, when he led the team in yards from scrimmage. Working in tandem with Joique Bell, Abdullah averaged 4.2 yards per carry, caught 25 passes and was one of the league’s better kickoff returners.
He appeared primed for a breakout in 2016, but a Week 2 foot injury prematurely ended his season. And when he returned last year as the featured back in the rotation, he struggled in the role. Despite flashing some big-play ability, his efficiency bottomed out at 3.3 yards per attempt. Even if given the benefit of the doubt because of inferior blocking and play-calling, the results weren’t good enough.
Third round, pick No. 80
Cornerback Alex Carter
Carter’s time with the Lions was derailed from the start after he was sidelined his entire rookie season by an ankle injury suffered the first week of training camp. He spent much of his second year on the practice squad after failing to make the roster out of camp, and was cut again last year after not being able to make a quick conversion to safety.
Fourth round, pick No. 113
Defensive tackle Gabe Wright
The Lions traded a future third-round pick to snag Wright in the middle of the fourth round. The move ended up being a waste. He played sparingly as a rookie – 134 snaps over seven games – recording six tackles. That’s actually been his most productive pro season.
Wright was cut the following offseason, in favor of free-agent addition Stefan Charles. Wright spent most of the 2016 season on the Browns’ practice squad and is currently still in the league, now with the Dolphins.
Fifth round, pick No. 168
Fullback Michael Burton
Burton was only in Detroit one season, but adequately filled his role at fullback and as a key special teamer. He became expendable when the team opted to dump the fullback position from the offensive scheme and was quickly scooped up by the Chicago Bears.
Sixth round, pick No. 200
Cornerback Quandre Diggs
The Lions have done well in the sixth round in recent years, scoring Diggs, Theo Riddick, TJ Jones and Anthony Zettel in the past five drafts. Diggs is unquestionably the best value selection from this class, and arguably, the best talent overall.
After a surprisingly strong rookie season, Diggs badly struggled in coverage his second year before suffering a season-ending pec injury. He bounced back with a vengeance in 2017, first in his normal nickel role, and also later in the year, when he was asked to move to safety. The hard-hitting defensive back transitioned smoothly to that new role, even recording interceptions in three straight games.
Seventh round, pick No. 240
Offensive tackle Corey Robinson
Oft-injured, Robinson has flashed potential over the years when he hasn’t been banged up. He’s started games at three different spots, including an unexpected opportunity at guard last season. Ideally, he’s best suited to back up both tackles. There’s still some untapped potential here and there’s a good chance he sticks with Detroit this season in that swing role.
When you strike out on three of your first four selections, your draft class is typically going to end up being a dud. Given a change in the front office, the Lions probably showed less patience with Tomlinson and Carter than the previous regime might have, but it’s difficult to factor in those hypotheticals, especially when those players haven’t thrived elsewhere.