The Detroit Lions have never been good drafters. After looking through draft class after draft class for a franchise with one playoff win in the Super Bowl era and consistent mediocrity or worse, there wasn’t much to choose from. Even the draft classes with Calvin Johnson and Barry Sanders were not very good otherwise and didn’t produce consistent winning. But for four years in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Lions were consistently over .500 -- largely because of their 1967 draft class, which featured a Hall of Famer and a superstar. Here’s a look at the four major players who came from that draft.
Mel Farr, RB, UCLA, first round, seventh overall: Mel Farr was named the NFL’s offensive rookie of the year in 1967. He led the Lions in rushing as a rookie (860 yards) and caught 39 passes. He finished his career with 739 carries for 3,072 yards and 26 touchdowns, along with 146 receptions for 1,374 yards and 10 touchdowns. After being traded to Houston before the 1974 season, Farr retired after eight NFL seasons. He stayed in Detroit and became known as “Mel Farr, Superstar,” an auto dealer in Detroit.
Lem Barney, CB/KR/PR, Jackson State, second round, 34th overall: He’s one of the best players in franchise history, playing in 140 games for the Lions. He snagged 56 career interceptions for 1,077 yards and seven touchdowns -- including 10 during his rookie season in 1967. He also had 143 career punt returns for 1,312 yards and two touchdowns. A two-time first-team All-Pro and seven-time Pro Bowler, Barney is a Hall of Famer, inducted in 1992.
Paul Naumoff, LB, Tennessee, third round, 60th overall: He was a consistent starter at linebacker throughout his career with Detroit, spanning from 1967 to 1978. He made the Pro Bowl after the 1970 season and has been considered part of one of the better linebacker groups to play in Lions history.
Mike Weger, DB, Bowling Green, ninth round, 218th overall: Weger was a value pick for the Lions later in the draft and ended up playing eight seasons for them, appearing in 108 games. He had 17 career interceptions, including one for a touchdown. He primarily played strong safety and combined with Barney to form a strong part of the secondary for Detroit out of this draft class. He finished his career with two seasons in Houston.
Next-best Lions draft class: Again, there were not a lot of strong classes to choose from. The 1995 draft class did not have any Hall of Famers, but produced three future Pro Bowlers (defensive tackle Luther Elliss, tight end David Sloan and linebacker Stephen Boyd). The group also had Cory Schlesinger, drafted in the sixth round, and he became the team’s fullback for over a decade. One recent class also deserves mention -- and could end up as the franchise’s best draft class in time. The 2013 draft is already one of Detroit’s best. It has featured one of the best young defensive ends in the league (Ezekiel Ansah), one of the best young corners (Darius Slay), the league leader in running back receptions last season (Theo Riddick), a building-block right guard (Larry Warford) and a consistent punter (Sam Martin). There’s also depth there with defensive end Devin Taylor. If the group continues progressing as expected, it should end up passing both the 1995 and 1967 classes as the best ever, but it’s not there yet.