The Detroit Lions gave Laken Tomlinson a bunch of opportunities. But things never really seemed to work out in Detroit for Tomlinson, a first-round pick in 2015. He was traded to San Francisco on Thursday, according to a source.
The Lions took Tomlinson -- Martin Mayhew’s final first-round pick as the team’s general manager -- with the hopes that he would become a cornerstone on a rejuvenated offensive line. Tomlinson was considered one of the most ready-made players in that draft, a guy who could step in immediately and have a long career, a smart lineman with good hands who wanted to become a doctor after he was finished playing in the NFL.
It never materialized. Tomlinson struggled during his initial training camp and started only the first game of the season because of an injury to right guard Larry Warford. He then was pulled from the lineup for the next two games before replacing Ramirez in the lineup for the rest of the season.
Even then, though, the inconsistency showed. He entered 2016 as the presumptive starter at left guard with Ramirez moving on, but he lost the gig to Graham Glasgow midway through the season because Tomlinson again struggled with consistency.
When Detroit let Warford go in free agency, it looked like Tomlinson might have another shot to earn a starting gig. The Lions then signed T.J. Lang to play right guard -- the position Tomlinson always seemed more comfortable in and the spot he played for four seasons at Duke -- and that ensured he likely wasn’t going to be a starter unless there was an injury. Joe Dahl’s emergence as a utility lineman made Tomlinson more expendable, particularly with a first-round salary attached to him.
From a personality standpoint, Tomlinson was a fine selection. Born in Jamaica, he immigrated to the United States as a boy and flourished in Chicago. He went to Duke to study pre-med. When he entered the league, he mentioned trying to give back to his homeland -- and went with Stephen Tulloch this offseason to build a school 10 minutes from where he grew up. He also got married and became an American citizen in the past year. He often worked with various philanthropic efforts in Detroit and the Caribbean.
But the football piece of his life never really meshed in Detroit. So from an on-field standpoint, he becomes another one of Mayhew’s failed high-round picks as a general manager.
Of Mayhew's nine first-round picks, only three -- Matthew Stafford, Ezekiel Ansah and Eric Ebron -- remain with the Lions. Ndamukong Suh is in Miami. Riley Reiff is in Minnesota. Nick Fairley is with New Orleans, and Tomlinson is now in San Francisco. Brandon Pettigrew is out of the league, and Jahvid Best had to retire because of concussions. His second-round picks, other than Darius Slay and Ameer Abdullah, were largely mistakes.
Of those picks, only three -- Stafford, Suh and Ansah -- have made Pro Bowls. And the mistakes there are a large reason why Mayhew is in San Francisco now, where he’ll reunite with Tomlinson, instead of still running the Lions.
The Tomlinson trade also shows how poor Mayhew’s final draft was. Tomlinson has been traded. Third-round pick Alex Carter was cut last year, made a transition to safety and is a bubble player to make the team this season. Fourth-round pick Gabe Wright was cut last year. Fifth-round selection Michael Burton, due to a schematic change, was waived earlier this year. Cornerback Quandre Diggs (sixth round) might start at the slot corner this year, but is not a roster lock. Tackle Corey Robinson (seventh round) is a bubble player as well.
Only Abdullah, the team’s starting running back, has a clear, defined role heading into 2017.
But Tomlinson, along with Abdullah, were Mayhew’s keys to fixing a long-stagnant Lions run game. Abdullah still has a chance. But Tomlinson is now gone.