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The Sordid Draft History of Matt Millen, or How to Build a Laughingstock in Today’s NFL

December 31, 2007

Matt Millen, NFL GM

Matt Millen Photo Credit: Todd Rosenberg/Icon SMI

This is indeed the most magical time of the year for Detroit Lions fans–the offseason. Scapegoats are run out of town, saviors are inked to hefty contracts, promises of improvement are made, and, ah yes, Matt Millen and his team of ace scouts bunker down for another game of darts NFL draft.

You see, despite what his rosy bio on the official Detroit Lions website claims, Matt Millen is not a very good NFL General Manager. In fact, he’s a very, very stinky one on many levels. His track record on coaching hires is abyssmal, his trades and free-agent signings are depressing at best, and then there’s his performance on draft day. The foundation for any successful NFL franchise is built upon solid picks in rounds one through seven, as well as through savvy undrafted free-agent pickups along the way. No team nails every one of their picks, but Millen nails hardly any.

With another chapter in Detroit Lions history mercifully over, ETB takes a look at how this once-proud bumbling franchise has gotten to where they are today based on Millen’s draft picks over the past seven years. Lions fans, you may want to stop reading now.

2001

First Round: Jeff Backus, T, Michigan
Second Round: Dominic Raiola, C, Nebraska
Second Round: Shaun Rogers, DT, Texas
Fifth Round: Scotty Anderson, WR, Grambling
Fifth Round: Mike McMahon, QB, Rutgers
Sixth Round: Jason Glenn, LB, Texas A&M

Millen’s ’01 draft was arguably his most successful one. Understand, however, that “success” is a relative term when applied to the man who famously called one of his ex-players “a faggot” during this, his first season on the job. After highly touted OG Steve Hutchinson came off the board one pick before the Lions were on the clock, Millen took the “next best thing” approach by taking Hutchinson’s Michigan teammate, Backus, who has slowly developed into the most-overpaid lineman in the NFL. Raiola is a solid if unspectacular center who has now started 96 games in a row and probably stands as one of Millen’s top-five draft picks. (I know, that’s kind of sad.) When motivated and away from the buffet line, Rogers is one of the most disruptive defensive tackles in the league, but conditioning, health, and character issues have plagued his Lions career. There are rumblings that he will be shopped in the offseason, which makes a lot of sense since he’s the team’s best defensive player. No reason keeping him around. Millen’s infatuation with WRs started with Anderson, who is out of the league, while McMahon was most recently seen playing for the Montreal Alouettes of the CFL.

2002

First Round: Joey Harrington, QB, Oregon
Second Round: Kalimba Edwards, DE, South Carolina
Third Round: Andre Goodman, CB, South Carolina
Fourth Round: John Taylor, DE, Montana State
Fifth Round: John Owens, TE, Notre Dame
Sixth Round: Chris Cash, CB, USC
Seventh Round: Luke Staley, RB, BYU
Seventh Round: Matt Murphy, TE, Maryland
Seventh Round: Victor Rogers, OL, Colorado

This draft might as well have never happened. Only one of these nine picks still contributes (Edwards), and after yet another disappointing season there’s a good chance he’ll be cut in the offseason. Harrington’s biggest accomplishment in Detroit was establishing one the team’s most memorable nicknames over the past decade–”Joey Blue Skies.” He’s now living the good life of a vagabond NFL quarterback who’s just good enough to earn a back-up job and will probably never again be his team’s unquestioned starter. Hey, that’s a cake, well-paid job, so kudos to Mr. Blue Skies. Outside of No-Sacks Edwards, Goodman (injured reserve for Miami), Owens (technically still a Lion), and Rogers (very fat) are the only ones still in the league. No one in this class will ever be considered a good player.

Chuck Rogers, Dynamite Pick

2003

First Round: Charles Rogers, WR, Michigan State
Second Round: Boss Bailey, LB, Georgia
Third Round: Cory Redding, DT, Texas
Fourth Round: Artose Pinner, RB, Kentucky
Fifth Round: Terrence Holt, S, North Carolina State
Fifth Round: James Davis, LB, West Virginia
Sixth Round: David Kircus, WR, Grand Valley State
Seventh Round: Ben Johnson, OL, Wisconsin
Seventh Round: Blue Adams, CB, Cincinnati
Seventh Round: Brandon Drumm, FB, Colorado
Seventh Round: Travis Anglin, WR, Memphis

Thanks for the laughs, Matt–you really picked some winners this time around. Millen’s list of draftees from the ’03 class reads like a “Who’s Who of Who the F#%k is That?” book about busts and never-weres. Chuck Rogers is most famous for his high-grade marijuana, but around these parts we enjoy ruminating on the fact that his fellow WR draft mate, Kircus, actually had a longer and more successful NFL career. (He also worked part-time at Subway for a spell in between teams, so he’s got that on Rogers too.) Of the 11 choices, two remain on the team, for now: Bailey will be allowed to test the unrestricted free-agent market, while late last summer Redding re-upped on a contract that made him the highest-paid DT in the league (37 tackles, 1 sack in ’07). The rest of these bums are either out of the league or riding the bench, dreaming of a career with the CFL’s Alouettes.

2004

First Round: Roy Williams, WR, Texas
First Round: Kevin Jones, RB, Virginia Tech
Second Round: Teddy Lehman, LB, Oklahoma
Third Round: Keith Smith, CB, McNeese State
Fifth Round: Alex Lewis, LB, Wisconsin
Sixth Round: Kelly Butler, T, Purdue

We’re big Roy Williams fans here at ETB–he’s entertaining both on and off the field, can make tough catches look easy, and has the talent to be a top-ten WR in this league. He just hasn’t been able to put it all together and truly make good on all that natural ability though. Roy is one of only two Millen draft picks (S. Rogers being the other) to make a Pro Bowl appearance thus far. After a stellar rookie season (1,313 combined yards, 6 TDs), Jones has failed to break 1,000 yards rushing in his ensuing three campaigns and has yet to dress for a full 16 games. He did establish a career high in TDs this season with eight, but suffered another injury that will likely keep him sidelined until midway through training camp next season. Lehman was incapable in ’07 of seizing the starting MLB job away from Paris Lenon. Smith is a decent nickel back, Lewis can’t stay healthy, and Butler is another in a long line of fat lineman who are jettisoned in and out of the lineup until the team finally gives up on them.

2005

First Round: Mike Williams, WR, USC
Second Round: Shaun Cody, DT, USC
Third Round: Stanley Wilson, CB, Stanford
Fifth Round: Dan Orlovsky, QB, Connecticut
Sixth Round: Bill Swancutt, DE, Oregon State
Seventh Round: Johnathan Goddard, LB, Marshall

Stellar class here for Millen. Big Mike Williams finished his two-year Lions career with 37 catches, 449 yards receiving, 2 TDs, and something like 100 dropped passes. After a short stint with the Raiders, he’s now a (temporary) member of the Tennessee Titans. Say what you will about this colossal bust, but always remember that, as Williams himself put it, “Mike Williams don’t drop passes.” Williams’ USC teammate, Shaun Cody, is frequently seen on the injury report with life-threatening maladies such as “stubby toe” and “swollen vagina.” Wilson has yet to intercept a pass over three seasons, and Orlovsky was beat out for the backup QB job in ’07 by J.T. O’Sullivan, who came to the team after being cut by the Bears.

2006

First Round: Ernie Sims, LB, Florida State
Second Round: Daniel Bullocks, S, Nebraska
Third Round: Brian Calhoun, RB, Wisconsin
Fifth Round: Jonathan Scott, T, Texas
Sixth Round: Alton McCann, CB, West Virginia
Seventh Round: Fred Matua, G, USC
Seventh Round: Anthony Cannon, LB, Tulane

As Millen’s only first-round choice on defense, Ernie Sims is also one of his best picks. The guy is one of the very few bright spots on that side of the ball for Detroit, averaging about 130 tackles over his first two seasons and establishing himself as a perennial contender for Pro Bowl consideration. He hasn’t made it yet, but he should get elected to at least a few during his career. The ’06 class gets considerably murkier after Sims: Bullocks was slated to start this season, but suffered a season-ending injury in the preseason. Scatback Calhoun has amounted to a scatological study of ineptitude thus far, with both of his NFL seasons ending with a trip to the Injured Reserve. Scott saw a few snaps in just about every game this year at RT for the Lions, which makes him ten times as successful as the three picks he preceded.

2007

First Round: Calvin Johnson, WR, Georgia Tech
Second Round: Drew Stanton, QB, Michigan State
Second Round: Ikaika Alama-Francis, DE, Hawaii
Second Round: Gerald Alexander, S, Boise State
Fourth Round: A.J. Davis, CB, North Carolina State
Fourth Round: Manuel Ramírez, OL, Texas Tech
Fifth Round: Johnny Baldwin, LB, Alabama A&M
Seventh Round: Ramzee Robinson, CB, Alabama

It’ll take some time to fully evaluate Millen’s most recent draft class, but the early results are not promising. Touted as the best WR prospect in many a-moon, Calvin “Megatron” Johnson had what has to be viewed as a disappointing rookie season, finishing with 48 catches for 756 yards receiving and 4 TDs. He has all the talent in the world and in all likelihood will improve next season, but the dropped passes and failure to fully overcome nagging injuries is troubling. Stanton spent his rookie season on IR–name one quarterback to come out of Michigan State who’s had a successful NFL career. I’m still waiting. Alama-Francis is a Rod Marinelli favorite… and recorded 12 tackles and no sacks in 6 games. Forced into the starting lineup after Bullocks’ injury, Gerald Alexander actually performed pretty well for a rookie at his position, with 81 tackles and 2 INTs on the season. He played with heart all the way to the end, which is a lot more than you can say for most of his teammates. Davis and Baldwin were training-camp cuts, Ramirez = practice squad, and Mr. Irrelevant, Ramzee Robinson, was cut, resigned, and activated late.

In summary, Matt Millen has made 53 draft picks since 2001. Of those 53, roughly half remain on the roster. Of those 27 or so players, 2 of them have gone to the Pro Bowl (one appearance each for R. Williams and S. Rogers) and 11 of them made semi-tangible contributions to the team’s 7-9 season in ’07. About 24 or 25 of Millen’s picks are either no longer in the NFL or on their way out, and nobody taken after the third round has yet to pan out. It’s also worth noting that none of the players who’ve moved on to other teams have made much of a positive impact… except when facing the team that drafted them.

On November 23, 2006, in front of a national TV audience on Thanksgiving, Harrington led the Miami Dolphins to a 27-10 victory over Detroit by going 19-29 for 213 yards and 3 TDs. Then, as a member of the Minnesota Vikings, Artose Pinner stomped the Lions for 125 yards rushing and 3 TDs on December 10, 2006.

We just can’t wait for April’s NFL Draft to arrive.

17 Comments »Posted by Brian Spencer on Dec. 31, 2007 at 2:09 pm in ETB Articles, NFL, NFL Fantasy News

17 Responses

Hindsight is great, isn’t it?? One thing to note is that Millen normally gets very high grades from the “experts” after each draft. I wonder how the author of this work has graded them without the benefit of hindsight?? That is assuming he has the nads to take a risk and not wait several years to see the outcome.

Posted by: Sid on January 1st, 2008 at 5:24 pm

PS: Quick correction as facts mean things….

Millen called Johnny Morton, an EX player, a “faggot” after he said hello to him in the tunnel, and Morton cursed at him.

Posted by: Sid on January 1st, 2008 at 5:34 pm

The main problem seems to be that Millen’s picks are entirely based on potential and have virtually nothing to do with what they’ve done ON THE FIELD. Teams that draft successfully seem to be drafting a lot more players based on “on field” factors and taking character into account a lot more. Also, the Lions don’t seem to understand that the purpose of the draft is to make the whole team better, and not just the wide-receiving corps.

Posted by: Greg H on January 1st, 2008 at 7:53 pm

Hi Sid,

Thanks for reading, though in the future the terms “balls,” “testicles,” and even “nuts” would be much more preferable to “nads.”

I appreciate you taking the time to point out the slight factual oversight with Morton–it’s been fixed. Long-term appraisals of one’s performance, or lack thereof, in the world of sports is a rather common occurence whether it be shedding said person in a positive or negative light. But I do appreciate your reminder that it’s much more “risky” to spout off immediate reactions to a draft pick than it is to offer a retrospective. I don’t think anyone would argue that.

If it’s instant, “risky” analysis of draft picks you’re after, we did such a thing for the most recent NBA and NFL drafts. You should be able to find those insta-reactions by performing a quick search of the site. Like many of the other experts reactions, I’m sure you’ll find that many of our thoughts have already proven incorrect; some have not.

Thanks again for reading.

Posted by: Brian Spencer on January 2nd, 2008 at 12:14 am

You have to admit that Millen clearly has the ‘Nads’ to be a GM. He just does not have the ‘Brains’ to pull it off.
It takes big nads to take the most ‘expert’ hyped WR in the draft every year regardless of your teams needs and if it will help your ‘team’ win.

PS I think it is great that Matt is reading your columns. (Although I guess that could be his Mom signed in as ‘Sid’) Maybe he will pick up some insight and start drafting and/or trading to meet his teams needs. It is the almost complete failure in mid to late rounds that really is telling. It looks like Millen puts everything into the first pick and then just takes wild last second guesses until the rest draft is over.
Have I mentioned how great my Patriots do in the draft yet? We usually don’t even bother to use our first round picks!

Posted by: Patriot Pete on January 2nd, 2008 at 2:07 pm

[...] History of Matt Millen Empty the Bench – Fantasy Sports, Fantasy Football, Fantasy Basketball, NFL, NBA One of my favorite lines……….Shaun Cody, is frequently seen on the injury report with [...]

Posted by: Draft History of Matt Millen - SpartanTailgate.com - Michigan State Spartans Forums on January 2nd, 2008 at 2:20 pm

Greg and Pete, you both make great points. Pete, you’re right about the middle to late rounds–31 picks made after Round 3 and none of them have panned out yet (and probably never will).

Posted by: Brian Spencer on January 2nd, 2008 at 3:39 pm

There’s plenty of blame to go around here, so let’s also lay some at the feet of William Clay Ford. He’s the guy who hired Matt Millen, refuses to hold him accountable for his shockingly poor performance and has made Big Matt the the second-highest paid GM in the NFL.

Posted by: Andrew Thell on January 3rd, 2008 at 11:18 pm

You’ve got that right, Andrew. Kind of makes one think of the Taylor/McHale situation in Minny, doesn’t it?

Posted by: Jeremy on January 10th, 2008 at 10:21 am

Yep, pretty much the same situation, Jeremy. It’s a frustration I’ve known all too well in my years as a Wolves fan.

Posted by: Andrew Thell on January 10th, 2008 at 11:28 am

you had asked for the name of one successful Michigan State quarterback…
that would be Earl Morrall.
If the Lions had kept him instead of Milt Plum…well…we might never had to wait this long.

Posted by: Eddie on February 25th, 2008 at 11:14 pm

loved the article. I actually think Millen’s futility in the second round is the biggest disappointment on the list. Second round picks are supposed to be starters, guys who can become crucial parts to the team. Many come in with the same high college marks as the 1st round picks, but without the burdensome contracts and signing bonuses. Competent GMs turn second round picks into starters and possible pro-bowlers, not guys who are on IR, deactivated, or never playing simply because of the lack of any quality player to push them for a starting job.

Millen pretty much drafted a complete defense in the second round thus far

Your starting D line

DT- Shaun Rogers (great talent, but now gone)
DT- Shaun Cody (can’t get on the field)
DE- Kalimba Edwards (what’s worse, drafting him or re-signing him?)
DE- Ikieka Alama-Francis (12 total tackles, deactivated most of the season)

Your linebackers

LB- Boss Bailey (1st round talent dropped because of injury concerns…for a good reason)
LB- Teddy Lehman ( can’t stay healthy, can’t beat out undrafted free agents)

Your safties

Daniel Bullocks (injured reserve)

Gerald Alexander (gets praise for his play, but watch some of Adrian Peterson’s runs to see how bad this guys angles were most of the year)

This leads me to believe that Millen will draft two cornerbacks in the second round this year to form an all second round bust defense.

Oh, almost forgot he traded up to get Drew Stanton at QB. He (injured reserve) and Dominic Raiola (terribly overpaid) are the only offensive players he’s taken in round two because of the overemphasis of offensive selections in round one.

Almost forgot that not only is his second round record horrible, he’s also wasted numerous picks to trade up to some of those spots.

Posted by: kitty on February 29th, 2008 at 11:23 pm

“Swollen vagina.” That’s fantastic.

Out of all of these years, I think 2005 was the most disappointing. Mike Williams . . . nothing more need be said, except that Millen chose a guy who (1) was out of football for over a full calendar year at the time of the draft; (b) already had a history of weight problems; and (4) played the same position as Charles “I played at a Michigan-based school, so I’ll draw the fans in” Rogers, and Roy “I’ve actually got nothing bad to say about Roy” Williams. To follow that disastrous pick (I said at the time, we should have drafted Derrick Johnson) with Shaun “swollen vagina” Cody, Stanley “Hey, my dad played football” Wilson, Dan “let’s see what he can do” Orlovsky, Bill “Who am I?” Swancutt, and Johnathan “Again, who am I?” Goddard, just wow.

Posted by: Tom on March 13th, 2008 at 2:00 pm

greg h,

i dont know if you watched many michigan state games but charles rogers did a fair amount of things on the field. im quite sure he won the belitnikov (i dont know how to spell that) award while at state, and harrington was the man at oregon. im quite sure the ducks were usually top ranked thanks to him and won a couple bowls, and he was a finalist for the heisman too. so to say they didnt do anythin on the field is kinda wrong.

and in no way am i really saying that i like millen…..drafting a wideout with your 1st pick 3 years in a row is retarded. he just ends up with busts that could have been good.

Posted by: bret on March 13th, 2008 at 7:27 pm

funny, 3 of those 2nd round picks are former lions now wit edwards, bailey, and lehman gone.

Posted by: kitty on March 13th, 2008 at 8:10 pm

Mr. Millen can’t be blamed for the 50 years of frustration. Actually, it has been kind of nice getting such high draft picks every year. Although, I do remember draft day in ’98? when the Lions drafted Terry Fair when I was yelling Orlin Kreutz. I don’t know where Terry is, but Orlin is playing for the Bears and is doing well. Another thing is that you can draft talent, but if your system is broke players won’t develop. I wonder who let Bill Belichek go when he was with the Lions, was that Monte Clark?

Posted by: William on March 14th, 2008 at 11:18 pm

Matt, I’ve got some time and would love to help you out, call me.

Posted by: William on March 14th, 2008 at 11:20 pm

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