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O'HARA: How Lions have rebuilt through the draft

It isn't necessary to look too deeply into the Detroit Lions' drafts of the last decade to see why they've been consistent playoff contenders in the NFC North.

They still have work to do to break through and win division titles and host playoff games at Ford Field, but those goals are within reach because of the draft.

It starts at the top.

What the Lions have done in the first round in the 10-year period from 2009 through this year has made a difference in their ability to build the roster.

The Lions have reduced the failure rate of first-round picks. Before that – the period from 2002-06 in particular – there were more misses than hits with the top picks.

What has happened to the Lions over the years, good and bad, is not all because of the draft. But as Bob Quinn has said often in his three years as general manager of the Lions, the draft is the primary tool in building a roster.

Making a mistake in the first round, especially with a top 10 pick, has a crippling effect because of the financial impact on the salary cap and the missed opportunity to improve a position with what should be a blue-chip prospect.

Here's a breakdown from three distinct periods of the Lions' draft – the building period of the last 10 years, a two-year recovery in 2007-08 and five barren years (2002-06) that set them back.

Barren period: Three good players were added in 2001 – offensive tackle Jeff Backus in the first round, and center Dominic Raiola and defensive tackle Shaun Rogers both in the second. All three had long, productive careers.

But the five drafts from 2002-06 were dreadful. There were six first-round picks: QB Joey Harrington (2002), WR Charles Rogers (2003), WR Roy Williams and RB Kevin Jones (2004), WR Mike Williams (2005) and LB Ernie Sims (2006).

Williams made the Pro Bowl in the 2006 season. Jones rushed for 1,133 yards as a rookie, but never got to the 700-yard mark after that. He was hampered by injuries and was out of football after three more seasons in Detroit and one with Chicago.

Sims showed flashes but was too small to make an impact. Harrington lacked leadership. Warning signs went unheeded that Charles Rogers and Mike Williams would arrive with baggage. Both were massive flops.

Recovery (2007-08): The Lions drafted a star in Calvin Johnson second overall in 2007 and a solid starter at offensive tackle in Gosder Cherilus in 2008. It didn't keep them from going 0-16 in 2008 – or from having a 5-47 record from Game 9 of 2007 through game 12 of 2010.

But it was a start.

Building: From quarterback Matthew Stafford in 2009 to left guard Frank Ragnow this year, the Lions have drafted 11 players in the first round in the last 10 years. Only two were not active in 2017. The other nine were consistent starters – five for the Lions, four for other teams after leaving Detroit either as free agents or in trade.

Here's the breakdown on the 11 first-round picks:

Inactive (2): Running back Jahvid Best, drafted 30th overall in 2010, had to retire because of a concussion after playing all 16 games as a rookie and five in 2011.

Defensive tackle Nick Fairley, taken 13th overall in 2011, was put on the reserve nonfootball illness list by the Saints last year because of a heart condition. Fairley had started all 16 games for the Saints in 2016 and posted career highs for sacks and tackles.

Left as free agents (3): Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh (2010) was a three-year starter for the Dolphins and signed this year with the Rams to start next to Aaron Donald. Offensive tackle Riley Reiff (2012) signed and started with the Vikings last year.

Tight end Eric Ebron (2014) was released this year for what Quinn said were financial issues and signed with the Colts as a free agent.

Traded (1): Guard Laken Tomlinson (2015) was traded last preseason to San Francisco, where he started the last 15 games at guard. He was considered a disappointment in Detroit, but he played all 32 games and started 24 as a Lion.

Starters in 2017 (5): QB Matthew Stafford (2009), DE Ziggy Ansah (2013), OT Taylor Decker (2016), LB Jarrad Davis (2017), G Frank Ragnow (2018) projected.

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