They’ve had Hall of Famers, guys who never took an NFL snap and even a man better known for being a model than for anything he did playing professional football. The No. 20 overall pick in the draft, which the Detroit Lions own this year, has been a hit-and-miss spot throughout the history of the draft.
Ten players taken at No. 20 were active last season, with former Lions tight end Brandon Pettigrew and defensive back Aaron Ross the only ones not active from the 2006 drafts (Hali) on.
Two Hall of Famers have been taken at No. 20 -- Jack Youngblood in 1971 by the Rams and Forrest Gregg in 1956 by Green Bay.
The Lions have picked at 20 before, the last time taking Pettigrew in 2009 -- 19 picks after selecting franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford at No. 1. Before that, Detroit drafted offensive tackle Stockar McDougle in 2000, defensive back Terry Fair in 1998, defensive tackle Luther Elliss in 1995 and tight end David Lewis in 1984. Twice before the modern era, the Lions chose at No. 20 -- and took Harry Hopp and Bob Dethman in back-to-back years in 1941 and 1942.
The Fair pick would likely rankle some Lions fans, considering who came off the board in the next few picks in that draft. Immediately after Fair, Minnesota took Hall of Fame receiver Randy Moss. After Moss, three defensive backs who started more than 100 NFL games each came off the board in the next four picks: Tebucky Jones (New England), Shaun Williams (New York Giants), Donovin Darius (Jacksonville). Alan Faneca, a potential future Hall of Famer, was taken at No. 26 that year.
Any of those players would have been better for the Lions than Fair, who was better known as a returner and was out of Detroit after the 2001 season.
In what could be a harbinger of what could come for the Lions, Michigan and Alabama players have been popular at No. 20. Five Michigan players have been taken at No. 20: Chuck Ortmann in 1951, Jim Detwiler in 1967, Ron Johnson in 1969, Michael Taylor in 1972 and Matt Snorton in 1974. Three Crimson Tide players (Dennis Homan, Dwayne Rudd and Kareem Jackson) have also been picked at No. 20.
Prospects from Michigan (Maurice Hurst) and Alabama (Da’Ron Payne) are potential Lions targets at the spot this year.
Since the AFL-NFL merger, the most popular position taken at 20 is defensive end, with nine selections, highlighted by Youngblood and Hali. That’s good news for Detroit, considering finding an edge rusher is one of the team’s biggest -- if not the biggest -- need. Eight receivers, eight defensive backs, six defensive tackles, five offensive tackles, four tight ends, three linebackers, three running backs and two guards have been taken. That’s the same number of players with the last name Pettigrew who were taken at No. 20 -- Brandon with the Lions in 2009 and Gary Pettigrew, a defensive tackle drafted by Philadelphia in 1966. Both went on to decent careers (Brandon seven years in Detroit, Gary nine years with the Eagles).
The last two positions are key, too, as they also represent needs for Detroit. The last time a team took a running back at No. 20 was in 1990, when the Falcons drafted Steve Broussard, who played nine NFL seasons for Atlanta, Cincinnati and Seattle, never amassing more than 454 rushing yards or 218 receiving yards in a season.
Offensive guards have been successful at No. 20, with current Bears guard Kyle Long (2013) and Mark May, who was taken by Washington in 1981 and had a 12-year career, including one Pro Bowl in 1988.
A center hasn’t been drafted since 1954, when Washington took Jim Schrader. A quarterback has never been taken at No. 20. Only Ortmann, who is credited by Pro Football Reference with an 0-2 record for the Dallas Texans in 1952, is listed with a quarterback record at all. (Ortmann played several positions after he was drafted by Pittsburgh in 1951 and he threw passes for them, completing 56 of 139 attempts for 671 yards, 3 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.)
The first No. 20 was NYU’s Ed Smith -- then a third-rounder -- by Boston in 1936. His career lasted less than two seasons, but he’s more known for another reason. The Heisman Trophy that’s hoisted every year? Well, that’s him. He’s the guy who was the model for the sculptor of the now-iconic college trophy. Smith, who died in 1998, apparently didn’t know he was the model for the Heisman until 1992, when Sports Illustrated reported a documentary filmmaker told him about it.
It’s unlikely that the Heisman will make a trip to Detroit with the No. 20 pick this year, though. The last two winners -- Baker Mayfield and Lamar Jackson -- are quarterbacks, and the Lions are set at the position.
But, hey, if there’s a trade, you never know.