O'Hara: A look back at how the Lions and Bears fared in the 2003 draft

Posted Oct 24, 2012

"The focus is on how the Bears scored by drafting Tillman and Briggs. It wasn’t a perfect draft for the Bears, though."

A photograph that captured the essence of the starring role Charles Tillman played for the Bears under the bright lights of Monday Night football was an example of art reflecting reality.

Tillman’s performance in defending Calvin Johnson, the Lions’ superstar receiver, made him a central character in the Bears’ 13-7 win.

With Tillman covering Johnson most of the game, Matthew Stafford targeted Johnson with 11 passes. Johnson had only three catches for 34 yards.

A picture doing cyber-laps on the internet shows Tillman’s reflection on the shield of Johnson’s helmet. If the game had been a Hollywood production, the shot would have been the poster for “Nightmare at Soldier Field.”

However, the reality of draft value is that a nightmare IS reality for the Lions, and it began in the bright daylight of the 2003 draft.

The Bears got two cornerstone players in 2003 for a defense that has ranked among the NFL’s best for a decade.

Chicago drafted Tillman and linebacker Lance Briggs on the second and third rounds respectively. Now in their 10th seasons, Tillman and Briggs are still starting and playing at a high level for the Bears.

Both players are examples of the perils and uncertainties that are part of the draft – and what makes the draft such an intriguing exercise.

Re-drafting is a popular exercise, whether it is done in midseason of the draft year, or after one, two or five years.

The Lions have upgraded their draft in recent years under GM Martin Mayhew. The roster no longer is thin on talent.

Here is a look back at the 2003 draft. The focus is on how the Bears scored by drafting Tillman and Briggs. It wasn’t a perfect draft for the Bears, though. Their first pick misfired, as did others down the line.

Round 2

Pick 34, Lions: They drafted outside linebacker Boss Bailey of Georgia, the top-rated player at his position and one of the fastest defensive players in the draft at any position.

In his rookie season, Bailey led the defense in the number of snaps played. However, a training-camp injury in 2004 caused him to miss all of his second season. Bailey was never as effective. He played 64 career games and finished his season in Denver, where he played six games in 2008.

Pick 35, Bears: They took Tillman out of Louisiana-Lafayette, who was rated a solid second-round pick behind such prospects as Terence Newman and Nnamdi Asomugha – but considerably ahead of Asante Samuel, who slid to the fourth round.

Tillman has 32 career interceptions and made the Pro Bowl after the 2011 season, and he is still starting and playing well.

Round 3

Pick 66: Lions draft Cory Redding, a versatile defensive lineman from Texas with high character. Redding became a team leader with the Lions and moved from defensive end to tackle in 2006 after an injury to Shaun Rogers.

Redding has had a solid career. He left the Lions for Seattle in 2009, played two seasons for the Ravens, and is starting for the Colts.

Pick 68: The Bears struck gold with Briggs. He was rated as an inside linebacker at Arizona, and a solid third-round pick.

Chicago already had Brian Urlacher at middle linebacker. It would be easier to replace the Sears Tower than to move Urlacher out of his position.

The Bears’ projected Briggs as an outside linebacker, and he surpassed any realistic projections. Briggs has 15 career interceptions and has been voted to seven Pro Bowls and made first-team All-Pro once.

Although the Bears found cornerstone players at key positions on the second and third rounds of 2003, they were victims of the uncertainty of the draft.

The Bears two first-round picks and got mixed results. Defensive end Michael Haynes of Penn State flopped, netting 5.5 sacks in three seasons.

Later on the first round, the Bears took quarterback Rex Grossman. Despite being much maligned – his treatment by the Chicago media made Joey Harrington look like a folk hero in Detroit by comparison - he was the starter in Chicago’s Super Bowl season of 2006.

Grossman currently is a backup in Washington.

Defensive back Todd Johnson, a fourth-round pick from Florida, played 80 games over seven seasons without an interception.

Bobby Wade and Justin Gage were receivers drafted on the fifth round. Both had more than 200 career catches, but their best seasons were after leaving Chicago.

The Lions had a well-publicized first-round flop. They took wide receiver Charles Rogers second overall. He had 35 career catches and two broken collarbones before being released at the end of training camp in 2006. His life descended into a string of problems related to substance abuse.

On the next pick, the Houston Texans also took a receiver – Andre Johnson of Miami. He has 740 career catches, 54 TDs and has been All-Pro twice with five Pro Bowls.

It doesn’t take a picture or a thousand words to explain how drafting Rogers over Johnson was a nightmare.