Thirty years ago today the Detroit Lions drafted Barry Sanders third overall

The Packers passed in favor of Tony Mandarich

Thirty years ago today the Detroit Lions drafted running back Barry Sanders.

No-brainer, you ask?

Well, yes. On April 23,1989, by the time the Oklahoma State running back dropped to the Lions with the third overall pick it was an easy decision for GM Chuck Schmidt.

Sanders, the 1988 Heisman Trophy winner, was coming off a remarkable college season. He backed up Thurman Thomas his first two seasons and then in his junior year (1988) he led the nation averaging 7.6 yards per carry and more than 200 yards per game and more than 300 yards in four games. In total he rushed for 2,850 yards and 42 touchdowns in a dozen games that season. He carried the ball 344 times (unbelievable) and still returned kicks and punts.

Sanders was a marvel, obviously.

When he joined the Lions, he acclimated to the NFL immediately.

He missed training camp as a rookie due to contract issues so he didn’t start the regular season opener. He stepped on the field in the third quarter for the first time and carried nine times for 71 yards (7.9 yards per carry) and a touchdown in a 16-13 loss to Phoenix. This was after no training camp and no preseason games. He finished the season with 1,470 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns. Speaking of no-brainers, he was named NFL rookie of the year.

Through 10 seasons with the Lions, Sanders averaged more than 1,500 rushing yards per season and 99.8 rushing yards per game. In 1997, he became the third player to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a season and was named the NFL Most Valuable Player.

If you never saw him, go to YouTube and watch his highlights. It’s a treat. There’s a reason he was a 10-time Pro Bowler and two-time NFL offensive player of the year.

So while the Lions have historically had a few bad first-round picks — Charles Rogers (2003) and Reggie Rogers (1987) come to mind — when it came to Sanders they nailed it. Not so much for the Green Bay Packers.

In that 1989 draft, Troy Aikman was the first overall pick by the Dallas Cowboys.

Then the Packers drafted offensive lineman Tony Mandarich. (Michigan State) who was a bust with a capital B. History proved they were idiots for skipping over Sanders.

Four of the top five 1989 picks became Hall of Famers — Sanders, Aikman, Derrick Thomas (Kansas City) and Deion Sanders (Atlanta Falcons).

 

(Read more about Barry Sanders in one of my books — “Game of My Life Detroit Lions” or “100 Things Lions Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die.” Both are available on Amazon.com and at Detroit-area Barnes & Nobles.)

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Detroit Lions: Three take-aways from GM Bob Quinn’s pre-draft press conference

He would like to trade down from the 8th overall pick

ALLEN PARK — Is Bob Quinn trying to send out secret messages about his NFL draft plans?

That’s doubtful, but  the Detroit Lions GM has been pretty clear that he wouldn’t mind trading down in the first round.

He reiterated that stance on Thursday during his annual pre-draft press conference. The Lions have the eighth overall pick in the NFL draft — and eight additional picks. The draft starts next Thursday, April 25, with the first round. Second and third rounds will be drafted on April 26, with the final rounds on April 27.

Quinn estimated that he and his staff have evaluated 1,800 prospects in preparation for his fourth draft for the Lions.

Three thoughts to ponder:

1. While he’s willing to trade down, don’t expect him to move up. “There’s a couple players at the top you obviously would love to have, I just don’t think I have enough ammunition to get up there,’’ Quinn said. “I think, like I said previously, I’d rather move back a couple spots if anything. So there’s definitely good players at the very top, there’s good players at 8 too, guys that we’re excited about. Hopefully a couple are there and we can choose from a couple of them.’’

He’s open to most anything. He would trade down into the 20s if that deal made sense and he could still grab a player that he wanted.

“It’s hard to say right now, to be quite frank, some teams in that 13-15 they don’t want to do anything. You get an offer from 21 and it looks really good and you look at the board and saying 8 to 21 is 13 spots — there’s 13 good players I like there,’’ Quinn said. “You do the math and think I could at least get that guy and then evaluate from there.’’

2. Fan sentiment plays no role in his draft decisions. None. This should be obvious, but there are still fans who will groan if he drafts a tight end (or even a wide receiver) in the first round. That’s because they were disappointed in first-round tight ends Eric Ebron (2014) and Brendan Pettigrew (2009).

“In all due respect to the fans out there, I can’t take the fan sentiment to who I draft and who I sign to this team,’’ Quinn said. “I wasn’t the person who drafted Eric so I think it’s two different conversations.’’

3. In the last few weeks, Quinn and his staff have been taking their time and going through special teams rankings from the scouts and coaches. Quinn said some of the players haven’t been on special teams since 2016 which makes it a little more interesting.

“Really the final piece of the puzzle is how much special teams value does this player have. Because ultimately in fourth through seventh (rounds) nd rookie free agents that’s really how guys end up sticking on the team,’’ Quinn said. “They could be a really good receiver but have no special teams value and you look at it the other way — you know if they have really good special teams value you know they’ll be able to get on the bus, go to the game, be on the 46-man roster and work it out there.’’

That’s exactly why a guy like running back Zach Zenner, an undrafted free agent, stuck around and got a chance on offense. Same with several other players on the Lions’ roster in recent years.

Detroit Lions release 2019 schedule

Will play one Monday night game on the road

Not too much drama in the release of the Detroit Lions’ 2019 schedule on Wednesday night although just two of the first five games will be played at Ford Field.

The Lions open on the road at the Arizona Cardinals on Sept. 8 with their first home game in Week 2 against the Los Angeles Chargers who finished 12-4 last season.

They will play on Monday night game, on Oct. 14 at the Green Bay Packers. It will be their first game after the bye in Week 5 (Oct. 6).

On Oct. 27, the Lions will welcome the New York Giants and wide receiver Golden Tate.

On Thanksgiving they will face the Chicago Bears for the second straight season. In 2018 the Bears feasted on the Lions with a 23-16 win.

The regular season — the second under coach Matt Patricia —  will wrap up on Dec. 29 against the Packers at Ford Field. It’s the second straight home finale against the Packers. The Lions won that game 30-0 last year to finish the season, 6-10.

2019 REGULAR SEASON LIONS SCHEDULE

Sunday, Sept. 8 at Arizona Cardinals, FOX, 4:25 p.m.

Sunday, Sept. 15 LOS ANGELES CHARGERS, CBS, 1 p.m.

Sunday, Sept. 22 at Philadelphia Eagles, FOX, 1 p.m.

Sunday, Sept. 29 KANSAS CITY CHIEFS, FOX, 1 p.m.

Sunday, Oct. 6 BYE WEEK

Monday, October 14 at Green Bay Packers, ESPN, 8:15 p.m.

Sunday, Oct. 20 MINNESOTA VIKINGS, FOX, 1 p.m.

Sunday, Oct. 27 NEW YORK GIANTS, FOX, 1 p.m.

Sunday, Nov. 3 at Oakland Raiders, FOX, 4:05 p.m.

Sunday, Nov. 10 at Chicago Bears, CBS, 1 p.m.

Sunday, Nov. 17 DALLAS COWBOYS, FOX, 1 p.m.

Sunday, Nov.24 at Washington Redskins, FOX, 1 p.m.

Thursday, Nov. 28 CHICAGO BEARS, FOX, 12:30 p.m.

Sunday, Dec. 8 at Minnesota Vikings, FOX, 1 p.m.

Sunday, Dec. 15 TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS, FOX, 1 p.m.

Saturday, Dec. 21/Sunday, Dec. 22 at Denver Broncos TBD

Sunday, Dec. 29 GREEN BAY PACKERS, FOX, 1 p.m.

PRESEASON SCHEDULE

Thursday, Aug. 8 NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS, WJBK-TV FOX 2, 7:30 p.m.

Saturday, Aug. 17 at Houston Texans WJBK-TV FOX 2, 8 p.m.

Friday, Aug. 23 BUFFALO BILLS, CBS, 8 p.m.

Thursday, Aug. 29 at Cleveland Browns, WJBK-TV, FOX 2 7:30 p.m

Lions to open preseason at home against Super Bowl champion Patriots

2019 preseason opponents announced

The Lions have announced their 2019 preseason opponents starting with the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots at Ford Field, Aug. 8-12. Exact dates and times will be announced at later date.

It will mark the third time in seven years the Lions and Patriots have met in the preseason. Detroit leads the preseason series 6-3.

In Week 2 (Aug. 15-19), the Lions will play at the Houston Texans. Detroit’s last preseason game in Houston was against the Oilers in 1996.

In Week 3, the Lions will welcome the Buffalo Bills at 8 p.m. on Aug. 23 in a game to be broadcast nationally on CBS. It will be the 38th time they have met in the preseason.

The Lions wrap up their preseason at the Cleveland Browns on Aug. 29 or 30. The Lions and Browns have met in the preseason 47 times, more than any other Lions opponent. Detroit leads the Preseason series with a record of 25-21-1.

TE T.J. Hockenson makes sense for Detroit Lions in first round, per Todd McShay

First-round TEs haven’t always worked out so well

Drafting tight ends in the first round is not exactly on the Lions’ list of top achievements in recent years.

Brandon Pettigrew, first-round pick in 2009 (20th overall), and Eric Ebron, the 10th overall pick in 2014, immediately come to mind.

Still there’s a chance the Lions could turn to a tight end with the eighth overall pick three weeks from now.

ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay has the Lions drafting Iowa tight end T.J. Hockenson in the first round in his 4.0 mock draft.

He is well aware of need at defensive end, but he can’t overlook the Hockenson’s talent.

“I considered it. I gave Jaylon Ferguson (Louisiana Tech) to Detroit at 43, I recognize the need,’’ McShay said in a Tuesday conference call. “I just think T.J. is one of the 10 best players in the draft. I know they haven’t had the greatest success drafting tight ends early with Pettigrew and Ebron.’’

Hockenson, who is 6-5 and 251 pounds, is widely considered the best overall tight end and one of the best overall players in the draft.

“You don’t often find guys coming out of college who can block inline and you can flex them out and they can be as successful blocking as they are running routes and creating after the catch. I think he is one of the more complete football players in this draft and I don’t think you can go wrong with Hockenson,’’ McShay said.  

Last season in 13 games, Hockenson had 24 catches for 320 yards and three touchdowns.

“I think if developed properly Ferguson has a chance to be a really good player,”” McShay said.

He looked at the combination of picks in making the decision to go with Hockenson. He said there’s quite a drop-off in tight end talent between first and second rounds and less of a drop-off at defensive end.

The NFL draft starts on Thursday, April 25. The Lions have nine picks — one in each of the first five rounds with two in the sixth and seventh rounds.

Matthew Stafford’s wife Kelly announces upcoming surgery to remove brain tumor

She asks for prayers in coming weeks

Kelly Stafford, wife of Lions quarterback Matthew, announced today on Instagram that she has a brain tumor — acoustic neuroma or vestibular schwannoma.

She asked for prayers.

From her post: “We believe we found the best doctor to do it. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t completely terrified of brain surgery. I am. I am terrified of them opening my head, I’m terrified of losing my hearing, I’m terrified of losing facial function, I’m terrified of far worse things that could happen and I’m terrified that I won’t take the time I need to recover because the guilt I might feel of being absent from my kids for too long.. I am telling y’all this to ask for prayers and support.

“Things to pray for: -calmness in these next 2 weeks as I know anxiety will run high in myself & my whole family leading up to the day of surgery. -that God be in the room with the surgeons & give them all the guidance, steadiness, & confidence they need. -my safety during and after surgery. -please pray for matthew as I know his nerves will be high during this surgery. I couldn’t imagine being out in that waiting room.”

She had several episodes of vertigo beginning in January. Eventually an MRI showed the tumor. She included the scan on her Instagram post. She said the photo above was taken on the day she found out. She said she wanted the photo so when it was all over they could look back at it and remember.

Kelly and Matthew are parents of 2-year-old twin girls, Chandler and Sawyer, and their baby sister Hunter.

Justin Coleman reunites with high school buddies Darius Slay, Tracy Walker

Slot corner signed 4-year, $36 million deal with Lions

 

ALLEN PARK — Justin Coleman has cleared up the biggest mystery since he was rumored earlier this week to be signing as a free agent with the Detroit Lions.

Detroit cornerback Darius Slay claims he and Coleman are cousins.

Slay, Coleman and Lions safety Tracy Walker are all from Brunswick, Ga., and all went to the same high school there, but Coleman said they are not blood relatives.

“Man, the city where we’re from everybody are cousins. We’re not blood-related but we definitely are close, we grew up together,’’ Coleman said at his introductory press conference on Thursday at the Lions headquarters.

Slay and Coleman played for a few years together in high school. At age 24, Walker is younger and is indeed blood relatives with Slay.

“It was great playing with (Slay), we never knew that we were both going to get to this point. In high school he was one of the best players on the field, he kind of motivated me to get on the field and play a lot more,’’ Coleman said. “He kind of helped me along the way being the leader that he is. I tried to compete with him so I could get better myself and it helped me to get further along the way.’’

Slay, 28, was drafted by the Lions in the second round in 2013, while Coleman was undrafted but played in 10 games with two starts for the Patriots as a rookie in 2015. He also played for Matt Patricia in New England in 2016 before moving to the Seahawks for the 2017 and 2018 seasons.

“It was definitely a dream that we would come together at some point. I definitely looked up to (Slay) as a young kid to get to where he was going because I knew he was going to do something big with his life. Step by step, he led the way and we just grew up real close together, that allowed us to compete and get to this point,’’ said Coleman who turns 26 on March 27.

Coleman said he didn’t talk to Slay before he signed his four-year, $36 million ($19 million guaranteed) contract with the Lions.

But he’s heard from him since then. Slay told him, “Man, I’m so happy man, I told them they need to pay you.’’

Coleman ranks as the highest paid slot corner in the NFL, but that doesn’t seem to mean much to him.

“I kind of consider myself just another player coming to help the team. The money doesn’t matter. Of course it matters off the field — it helps my family out and helps the people close to me — but I just came here to help the team win and get to where we need to be,’’ Coleman said.

He would not be specific about how Patricia used him in New England’s defense instead saying he’s just happy to have the opportunity in Detroit.

His best traits?

“I feel like I give a lot of effort when it comes to finishing plays and just getting involved. That’s pretty much how I got here — a lot of effort, a lot of hard work,’’ Coleman said. “I’m not the biggest or the strongest or the fastest, but I can put myself in position to make it seem that way.’’