NFL Draft: Roy Williams Pick Wasn’t a Bust for Detroit Lions


Dec 7, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; A detailed view of a Detroit Lions helmet and gloves before the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Paula Pasche wrote in the Oakland Press last week that the Detroit Lions could draft a wide receiver in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft (Tony touched on some options yesterday). As would be expected, Pasche trotted out the now decade old trope of the Lions over-drafting receivers and having poor success with them.

"Charles Rogers, Roy Williams and Mike Williams.Each was a first-round draft pick and a bust at wide receiver for the Lions."

It’s been ten years since the Lions selected big Mike Williams in the 2005 draft, but I think most of us still remember the sting of getting so little production out of this group of three very high picks. Charles Rogers was the number two overall pick in the 2003 NFL Draft, Roy Williams was selected seventh overall in 2004, and Mike Williams was picked tenth in 2005.

Rogers and Williams were clear busts for the Lions. Rogers appeared in only 15 regular season games across three seasons and Mike Williams spent two seasons in Detroit, one bouncing around with the Raiders and Titans, and the was quickly out of football for three seasons before a brief two-year comeback stint in Seattle.

But was Roy Williams a bust? He didn’t have a wildly successful career, but he was a solid player for most of his career who spend eight years in the NFL. Would anyone be calling him a bust if he wasn’t sandwiched by the poor selections of Rogers and Mike Williams? I don’t think so, but let’s look at some numbers.

Here’s a list of the last 20 players who were selected with the seventh overall pick:

RkYearRndPick PlayerPosCarAV
1201417Mike Evans*WR7
2201317Jonathan Cooper*G1
3201217Mark Barron*DB13
4201117Aldon Smith*DE25
5201017Joe Haden*DB35
6200917Darrius Heyward-Bey*WR19
7200817Sedrick EllisDT27
8200717Adrian Peterson*RB78
9200617Michael HuffDB34
10200517Troy WilliamsonWR8
11200417Roy WilliamsWR42
12200317Byron LeftwichQB33
13200217Bryant McKinnieT64
14200117Andre CarterDE60
15200017Thomas JonesRB61
16199917Champ BaileyDB112
17199817Kyle TurleyT50
18199717Ike HilliardWR43
19199617Terry GlennWR67
20199517Mike MamulaDE31

The column on the far right, ‘CarAV’, is what I’m after. That’s Pro Football Reference’s weighted career approximate value calculation. It’s a pretty rough statistic, but it’s both (1) relatively objective and (2) freely available, so it will work for a quick analysis.

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The players with the asterisk are still active in the NFL, so let’s leave them aside so we don’t undervalue the group as a whole due to including players who haven’t played a full career. That gives us thirteen players in the last 20 years who were drafted seventh overall. The median career weighted approximate value of this group is 43. Roy William’s career weighted approximate value is 42.

So, from a total value perspective, the Roy Williams selection doesn’t look any different than what other teams got out of their number seven pick.

And what if we look at only wide receivers? Only Terry Glenn (CarAV of 67 in 1996) was clearly better, though Ike Hilliard (1997) rated one point better. If you want real busts, look at Troy Williamson (2005) and Darius Heyward-Bey (2009).

Taking another look, here’s the list of (non-Lions) top-ten wide receivers who were selected in the same three-year stretch that brought Rogers, Williams, and Williams to Detroit:

RkYearRndPick PlayerPosCarAV
1200313Andre Johnson*WR93
2200413Larry Fitzgerald*WR74
3200419Reggie WilliamsWR23
4200513Braylon EdwardsWR41
5200517Troy WilliamsonWR8

Selecting Rogers one pick before Andre Johnson hurts, but again, the Lions didn’t really get a lesser player out of the Roy Williams selection than this group of teams got out of theirs. Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald were superstars, but the median value here is 41.

Fans (and teams) always hope for All-Pro caliber players when selecting in the first round — and especially in the top ten — but the truth is most picks don’t end up that way. Most picks appear to end up a lot like Roy Williams.

Next: Lions Could Draft Receiver in First Round