The Detroit Lions’ 2019 draft class will make its mark in franchise history on its own merits, just as others have done before it.
However, that doesn’t mean comparisons can’t be made with draft picks and draft classes from previous years. One example: Inside linebacker Jahlani Tavai of Hawaii is a second-round pick, as was inside linebacker Chris Spielman in 1988.
As the nine players drafted this year go through their first Lions minicamp this weekend, along with undrafted free agents and tryout candidates, here’s a look at how players drafted by the Lions at the same position and same round can serve as models for the 2019 class.
There is one exception, and it starts at the top – where the match is at the same school to include a player who has a special place in franchise history for a memorable catch in a stellar career.
For the other eight players, comparisons are as current as possible. For example, third-round pick Will Harris of Boston College is not being compared to Hall of Fame safety and punter Yale Lary, a 1952 third-round pick from Texas A&M.
View photos of Detroit Lions players visiting the Macomb Special Olympics on Wednesday, May 8, 2019 at Macomb Community College in Warren, Mich.
Round 1: Tight end T.J. Hockenson, Iowa
Player match: Jim Gibbons, Iowa, 1958 draft
The link: Be true to the school – and with a player who fits Hockenson as well, if not better, than any first-round pick.
It took a draft-day trade for the Lions to get Gibbons. The Browns took him in the fifth round but had a pre-arranged deal to trade him to the Lions. It was a shrewd move. The Lions got a 21st Century tight end who could split out and catch passes or stay in and block.
Gibbons made three Pro Bowls in his 11-year career. He had 287 receptions, with an average of 12.4 yards per catch.
He made one of the most famous catches in franchise history – a 65-yard catch and run as time ran out on the final play to beat the Baltimore Colts in 1960.
Round 2: Inside linebacker Jahlani Tavai, Hawaii
Player match: Chris Spielman, Ohio State, Round 2, 1988
The link: Spielman was taken with a pick acquired in a trade with the Chiefs. Unlike Tavai, Spielman was a known commodity as a four-year starter for the Buckeyes and a high school star whose picture was on a Wheaties cover.
Spielman started from Day One in a 3-4 defense and was a team leader for eight seasons. He made four Pro Bowls and was voted first-team All-Pro in 1992 by the Associated Press and in 1994 by UPI, the Pro Football Writers of America and the Sporting News.
Round 3: Safety Will Harris, Boston College
Player match: Tracy Walker, Louisiana-Lafayette, Round 3, 2018
The link: For starters, similar size -- 6-1, 206 for Walker; 6-1, 207 for Harris. And opportunity. Walker was a surprise pick who progressed rapidly to play all 16 games and take snaps in sub packages. Walker will compete for a starting job this season with the departure of veteran Glover Quin. Harris will have a similar opportunity to move in and move up.
Round 4: Defensive end Austin Bryant, Clemson
Player match: Da’Shawn Hand, Alabama, Round 4, 2018
The link: Bryant and Hand were overshadowed by playing on talent-studded defensive lines. Hand emerged quickly as a rookie. He played 13 games, with eight starts, before an injury ended his season early. Hand’s size advantage (297 pounds vs. 271) might give him more versatility, but Bryant made a name for himself playing with three players at Clemson who were drafted in the first round.
Round 5: Cornerback Amani Oruwariye, Penn State
Player match: Jamal Agnew, San Diego, Round 5, 2017
The link: A decided size advantage for Oruwariye – 6-1, 203 vs. 5-10, 190 – but both had speed and attracted notice with ball skills. Agnew’s skill returning punts and kickoffs helped him earn a roster spot as a rookie. He backed that up with two punt returns for touchdowns to make All Rookie and first-team All Pro. Injuries limited him to six games in 2018. Like Agnew two years ago, there’s an opportunity for Oruwariye to win a job with his skill set.
Round 6: Wide receiver Travis Fulgham, Old Dominion
Player match: TJ Jones, Notre Dame, Round 6, 2014
The link: Jones was drafted with Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate the primary receivers and others interchangeable for depth. Jones was an asset because of his ability – and willingness – to learn all the receiver spots, plus handle returns. Fulgham arrives with a similar opportunity at receiver.
Round 6: Running back Ty Johnson, Maryland
Player match: Theo Riddick, Notre Dame, Round 6, 2013
The link: They have almost nothing in common physically. Johnson is a 5-10 speed burner with a limited receiving background. Riddick played receiver and running back in college. At his best, he’s one of the best receiving backs in the league and reliable on blitz pickups.
Riddick broke in slowly and made a career out of his specialty as a receiver and overall offensive awareness. Johnson has to do the same with his speed. Different styles, but similar opportunities.
Round 7: Tight end Isaac Nauta, Georgia
Player match: Michael Williams, Alabama, Round 7, 2013
The link: Versatility and potential. In Williams’ case, he was moved to tackle by the Lions. After two seasons on the practice squad he wound up with the Patriots in 2015 and was used as a blocking tight end. He was on injured reserve with the 2016 Patriots who won the Super Bowl.
Nauta showed a variety of skills as a three-year player at Georgia that could earn him a niche role with the Lions, as Williams eventually did with the Patriots.
Round 7: Defensive tackle P.J. Johnson, Arizona
Player match: Alfonso Boone, Mount San Antonio JC, Round 7, 2000
The link: Raw ability. Johnson has it, with a 40-yard dash time of 5.07 seconds at 6-4, 334 pounds. He took a long road to Arizona, with stops at Sacramento State and the Community College of San Francisco.
Johnson could develop into a player, the same way Boone did – although not with the Lions. Boone never played a game for the Lions, but the Saginaw native played 10 seasons (2001-10) with the Bears, Chiefs and Chargers. He played 129 regular-season games, with 41 starts, and was a member of the 2006 Bears team that lost to the Colts in the Super Bowl.