Detroit Lions fans have a real issue when it comes to revisionist history. Every year there’s a new player that fans think the Lions should have drafted instead of the player they picked. The most recent big one of course is the Lions drafting Eric Ebron over Aaron Donald.
This one was such a problem for Lions fans that they did a sequel of it this year when the Bills took Ed Oliver right after the Lions took T.J. Hockenson, even though neither guy has played a single snap in the NFL yet.
Maybe it’s a not just a Lions thing. Maybe it’s a Detroit thing altogether. Pistons fans are still upset their team took Luke Kennard over Donovan Mitchell, even though Kennard has been a serviceable player that’s only continued to improve. Then after the Red Wings took Mortiz Seider in the first round last week, Wings fans immediately said they could have waited on him and drafted someone better. I didn’t stick around to find out who because I don’t know anything about hockey. This is literally me.
The gist of what I’m saying is that we are a state of sports fans that are never happy with the draft picks of any of our teams. We’re always asking, “What if?” Well, you’re in luck, because this is the perfect week for that. It’s “What If?” week here at SB Nation.
So, naturally, we’re going to talk about the draft and what would have happen if the Lions did something earth-shattering 14 years ago. What if the Lions had drafted Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers? I know, right? Boom!
Let’s go all the way back to the 2005 NFL Draft. There were two quarterbacks NFL teams had their eyes on in this draft. Cal’s Aaron Rodgers and Utah’s Alex Smith. Both are still in the league today, coincidentally.
The Lions had just drafted Joey Harrington with the third pick in the 2002 draft and it was not working out. So far Joey had gone 798-1472 for 8,221 yards, 48 touchdowns and 50 interceptions in three seasons. It was more than okay to wipe the slate clean and move on. Harrington would only end up playing one more season in Detroit, so quarterback was arguably a need at this point in history.
Going into the draft, Rodgers was expected to go high. Top five at least. I found two mock drafts from 2005. One was Mel Kiper’s mock that had the Browns taking Rodgers with the third pick, and the other was Walter Football with the Buccaneers taking Rodgers with the fifth pick. Rodgers should have been gone by the time the Lions picked at 10.
But he wasn’t. Rodgers infamously fell all the way to the 24th pick where the Packers wisely grabbed him to be the heir apparent to Brett Favre. The Lions, by the way, went for their third wide receiver in four years when they made the horrible choice of Mike Williams.
I’ll give Lions fans a break on Mike Williams. Everyone in the world knew this was a bad choice when it went down. Williams hadn’t even played football in a year and was notorious for having weight problems and attitude issues. Still Kiper had him going top ten in the first round in his mock. Walter Football also had him going to the Vikings at seven, though. I wish that would have happened. Kiper would later say it was the worst draft evaluation of his career.
The Lions didn’t need a receiver. They needed a quarterback to throw to the receivers they had. It actually wasn’t too bad of a receiving corps at the time. (Please focus on the words “at the time.”) They had Roy Williams, and Scottie Vines, while Charles Rogers was expected to be ready to go after suffering a collarbone injury the previous season. They also had a decent tight end in Marcus Pollard and a young running back in Kevin Jones that just came off a 1,000-yard rookie season. Receiver was not a need.
So let’s flash back to draft day. The Browns and Buccaneers, two teams that need a quarterback have come off the board with skill players. The Lions are on the clock and they decide to go out and get an absolute steal when they select Aaron Rodgers with the 10th pick. There it is. the Lions have their quarterback. A future Hall of Famer that will one day be widely regarded as one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. The Lions would obviously go onto win the Super Bowl in 2006 or 2007. Their roster wasn’t all bad in those years, but they were in desperate need for a quarterback.
But none of that happens right? Because the reality is that probably even in this alternate universe, the Lions still have all the same problems. Charles Rogers still winds up flushing out of the league after 2005, Kevin Jones gets hurt and never fully recovers, Roy Williams never fully realizes his potential.
Biggest of all is that the Lions defense doesn’t improve because of Rodgers. That defense still likely ranks 20th in the league in 2005 and 28th in 2006. The Lions went 5-11 and 3-13 in both of those years. You could argue Rodgers helps the Lions get an extra win or two in both of those years, but it would not be enough. Now the city is calling for Rodgers’ head, because as we’ve learned from Matthew Stafford, having a really good quarterback on a crappy team is not good enough. Someone has to take the blame. It’s always the quarterback. In this case, it’s Rodgers.
Now things get a little interesting. Let’s flash to 2007. Let’s say the Lions aren’t much better than they were before and they still have the second pick in the 2007 draft and use it on Calvin Johnson. Now you have a really fun scenario of Rodgers to Johnson. One has to wonder if that really helps the Lions get over the hump.
But, oh yeah, I almost forgot that the the Lions still have the worst team ever assembled in the history of the league and go 0-16 just one year later. It’s hard to believe that just because Millen gets it right with Rodgers in 2005 and Johnson in 2006, that he magically got it right with all the picks in between. His track record speaks for itself. It’s really bad with a sprinkle or two of good.
So now we’re in 2009. The Lions have still been a really bad team with Rodgers since 2005, even though he may have helped get a few more wins that the real team actually got. His rookie deal is up and the fans likely want him gone. Packers quarterback Brett Favre is 40 years old and is likely about to retire. Remember in this universe he never left to play for the Jets because there was no young Aaron Rodgers waiting in the wings behind him. The team never pushed him out.
Favre finally calls it a career and the Packers decide to take a chance on this Aaron Rodgers kid that showed a lot of promise in Detroit, but couldn’t quite cut it. The Packers win the Super Bowl in 2011 in this universe too. You know it would go down like that.
So this is all a roundabout way to say that the Lions in the Matt Millen era were unsalvageable bad, and it’s hard to believe that any quarterback, even Aaron Rodgers, would have been able to make that team successful. You could argue that the Lions did Rodgers a favor by passing on him.
Still, you have to wonder if Millen takes Rodgers and then maybe everything just snaps in his head in that draft. He waits till the second round to get his receiver and takes Vincent Jackson instead of Shawn Cody and then he takes Justin Tuck in the third round instead of Stanley Wilson. Then he just keeps getting it right after that and Steve Mariucci never leaves and wins Coach of the Year the same year the Lions win the Super Bowl in 2008. Hmm... What would it look like?
I know right? Boom!