Adrian Peterson Was Detroit Lions' Backup Plan to Calvin Johnson

By Chris Katje
James Lang-USA TODAY Sports


With the second overall pick of the 2007 NFL Draft, the Detroit Lions selected Calvin Johnson. The selection of the former Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets wide receiver has changed the franchise and hopefully set the team up for future success. However, would the team’s backup plan of drafting running back Adrian Peterson have been the better option?

Former Lions general manager Matt Millen, who is still hated by many Lions fans, said the team’s backup plan if Johnson was not available was to draft Peterson. Now either Millen might have had one good year of decision making in 2007 or he is lying about the team’s “Plan B,” as he called it.

Peterson was a high school and college standout. After three stellar seasons at the University of Oklahoma, he entered the 2007 draft. In his three seasons, he rushed for 4,045 yards, falling just shy of former Lion Billy Sims’s Sooner record of 4,118 yards. Peterson finished second in Heisman Trophy voting as a freshman. After posting 1,925 yards rushing, Peterson was beaten by USC quarterback Matt Leinart for the annual award.

After the Lions passed on Peterson, he fell to the seventh overall pick held by the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings have been content with the pick. In his NFL career, Peterson has rushed for 8,849 yards in six seasons. His 2012 performance narrowly missed the NFL record held by Eric Dickerson, but did put Peterson in the coveted 2000 rushing yards group.

Since passing over Peterson, the Lions have struggled to find a starting running back. In 2008, the team drafted Kevin Smith in the third round. Smith would serve as a starter for part of his Lions career. The Lions took Jahvid Best with a first round pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. Best has seen little NFL action and battled concussion problems for several seasons. The Lions then drafted Mikel Leshoure in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft. Leshoure missed the entire 2011 season, but did look good in parts of the 2012 season. The team will likely consider drafting another running back in the later rounds of the 2013 NFL Draft. The Lions have yet to find their version of Peterson, but are perfectly content with Calvin.

The pick of Calvin surprised some Lions fans as it marked the team’s continued reliance on drafting a wide receiver in the first round. In the 2003, 2004 and 2005 drafts, the lions wasted top ten picks on Charles Rogers, Roy Williams and Mike Williams respectively. The trio of wide receivers never saw success with the Lions and the picks could have been used to address other positional problems. In the end, it’s too soon to tell if Johnson was a better pick than Peterson, but right now it looks like the right pick for the organization. Johnson broke the Lions and NFL record for receiving yards in a season and has many more records in his sights.

Ultimately, the Lions record hasn’t shown the success Johnson has had. Since the start of the 2007 season, the Lions have posted a miserable 29-67 record. Really if any team should have had a Plan B, it should be the Oakland Raiders. The team drafted Jamarcus Russell with the first overall pick and will forever be remembered for getting one of the biggest NFL draft busts in history.

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