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Looking back on the Detroit Lions’ history with the 7th overall pick

Looking back on the Lions’ history picking at seven.

Phoenix Cardinals v Detroit Lions Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images

We’re getting ever so close to the 2021 NFL Draft. We’re officially a week away. So while every writer from here to Timbuktu is writing player profiles, like the one I did on Jaylen Waddle earlier this week, and mock drafts, it’s time for me to think about the things that nobody cares about. It’s time to do what I do best. Random thoughts on past occurrences that have no bearing on the future. It’s fun to me.

With that in mind, the Lions have the seventh overall pick in this year’s draft, I thought it’d be nice to look back on the team’s history with the seventh pick and see how they’ve done. Maybe looking at their past could give some tiny indication on whether the Lions are headed to seventh heaven or the seventh circle of hell. Let’s jump right into it.

1937: Lloyd Cardwell

The Lions had only been the Lions for one season at this point. They were in need of a halfback because that’s all team did back then. They ran the ball like a 90 percent of high school football teams. Cardwell was hanging out at the University of Nebraska doing the Charleston and listening to the hit song that was banging in all the clubs that winter.

That’s when he got a call to head to the 1937 National Football League Draft and Luncheon at the Hotel Lincoln in New York City. Yes, I added the luncheon part. It just makes sense to me that the NFL was so small time back then that they had lunch midway through the draft. Probably a cooked goose or something like that.

Cardwell played for the Lions for seven years and was a pretty decent player. He accounted for 1,837 all purpose yards and 13 touchdowns over that time. So, basically, what Derrick Henry does in half a season. Still, not bad. Cardwell’s biggest claim to fame is that he was named an NFL All-Star in 1938. After he left the Lions, he coached at the University of Omaha and even led them to a 10-0 season and win in the Tangerine Bowl.

1939: John Pingel

The Lions were ahead of their time in 1939. They attempted to be the first team in NFL team to be built with nothing but halfbacks. This time they took a hometown boy in John Pingel from Michigan State.

Pingel didn’t hang around too long in Detroit. You see, kids, back then pro athletes were paid like part-time fast food workers. I don't mean part-time like “Jimmy only works four hours a day,” I mean part time like “Jimmy works for two hours on Saturday morning and that’s it.”

Seriously. The first overall pick in the in the very first NFL draft just three years earlier never played in the NFL. He was offered $125-$150 per game and decided to go take a job as a foam rubber salesmen instead.

Pingel stuck around for nine games and retired from football. He would later be the CEO of a major advertising company.

1967: Mel Farr

Who doesn’t love Mel Farr Superstar? My parents loved him when they leased a Ford Explorer from him in the 90s. Marvin Gaye loved him so much that he let him and Lions teammate Lem Barney sing backup on one of the greatest songs of all time, What’s Going On? Detroit loved Mell Far and Mel Farr loved Detroit.

Farr played for the Lions for seven seasons and made a big impact. He won the 1967 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award and made the Pro Bowl twice and All Pro once.

1987: Reggie Rogers

This is the height of sad stories. Some players don’t have the talent and ultimately flamed out. That wasn’t the case for Rogers. He was a great player at the University Of Washington. He was an All-American and won the Morris Trophy for being the best lineman in the country.

Once he got to the NFL, he struggled with emotional issues in his rookie year and spent some time in a counseling center after his older brother died of an overdose just 10 months before the draft. In his second season, he crashed into a car while intoxicated and killed three teens and broke his own neck. The Lions waived him and went on to spend a year in prison.

Rogers’ struggle with alcoholism saw him deal with many issues with the law and ultimately contributed to the end of his life at the age of 49.

1990: Andre Ware

Widely considered to be one of the biggest busts in NFL Draft history, the Lions took then Heisman Trophy winner Andre Ware with the seventh pick. Four years and 14 games later, he was out of the league. Ware just never figured it out. Maybe it’s because he didn’t have the talent, or maybe it’s because the Lions treated him like Darko Milicic and never played him.

The best year of his run with the Lions was in 1996 when he threw for 590 yards, 5 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. That’s not too bad. Wait, that’s with the BC Lions in the CFL. My bad.

2004: Roy Williams

This is it. This was the last time the Lions had the seventh pick. They took a receiver, just like they will this year.

Williams had a lot of hype coming out of Texas. He actually was a decent receiver for a minute, too. In 2006, he was Pro Bowler and led the NFC in receiving yards. If he had ended his career right there it would have been a success.

As we all know, he would never reach that height again. Perhaps the greatest thing he did in his NFL career was make Cowboys owner Jerry Jones look stupid for giving up a first round, third round and sixth round pick to the Lions for the receiver. Any time you can make the bad guy from The Last Boy Scout look bad, it’s win for everyone. The Lions turned that first-round pick into eight productive years from tight end Brandon Pettigrew. Not too shabby.