As the NFL Draft slowly approaches, it is now time to look back on previous drafts and determine how the fortunes of the Detroit Lions would be different had they selected differently than they originally did. For the Lions, their biggest draft mistake of all time led to a division rival grabbing a future Hall of Famer, and without a doubt was a big factor that led Barry Sanders to retirement after the 1998 season.
In the 1998 NFL Draft, the Lions were looking to build off of a wild card appearance in 1997 in which Sanders ran for 2,000 yards and the Lions offense was among the top five in the NFL. On defense, the Lions were a respectable 10th in scoring defense, but the team still felt the need to draft another defensive back even after selecting Bryant Westbrook in the top five in 1997.
With future Hall of Fame wide receiver Randy Moss still on the board at No. 20 for the Lions, Detroit instead chose Tennessee defensive back Terry Fair and the Minnesota Vikings selected Moss, who would torture the Lions in his seven seasons with the Vikings. Fair would only record seven interceptions in four years with Detroit while Moss would become one of the five greatest wide receivers in NFL history, mostly with the Vikings.
This was by far the worst first-round decision in team history because of the following reasons. The Lions already had a good defense, which didn’t necessitate drafting another defensive player in the first round. Detroit had already spent a pick on a defensive back the previous year in Westbrook.
Imagine an offense that would have featured Herman Moore, Johnnie Morton and Moss in the passing game with Sanders in the backfield — that offense could have been lethal and would have held its own against the Vikings and the Green Bay Packers.
The worst part of it all was not just missing out on Moss, but with Sanders lobbying for more help on offense, the team instead chose another defensive player in the first round from 1995-1999. Sadly, after the 1998 season, Sanders retired from the team and the Lions have only made two postseason appearances since. I tend to think that passing on Moss was a major reason why Sanders left when he did.