The Best Draft Year For Detroit Sports This Century

Which year produced our city's best batch of players?

Will Burchfield
June 04, 2020 - 10:49 am
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Detroit is a town of four seasons, and a fifth that never ends: Draft Season.

We experience sun, snow and the changing of the leaves, and the abiding hope that one of our teams, one of these years, will draft a batch of players who turn things around. 

It's happened before. The Tigers in 1976, with Alan Trammell, Jack Morris and Den Petry, which remains one of the greatest drafts ever -- by any team, in any sport. The Pistons a decade later, with John Salley and Dennis Rodman. The Red Wings in 1989, with Nicklas Lidstrom, Sergei Fedorov and Vladimir Konstantinov. 

The Lions, well, the Lions drafted Barry Sanders once. That worked out. 

You probably saw the obvious thread: those players are long gone. You may have noticed another link, too. Sanders arrived the same year as Lidstrom, Fedorov and Konstantinov, three Hall-of-Famers and a fourth who was on his way. What a haul for Detroit, the Pistons and Tigers notwithstanding. Which sort of got us thinking: Have we seen anything like it this century? 

Uhm, no. But of course. That quartet is a ridiculous standard, unlikely to be matched until Jeff Okudah, Spencer Torkelson, Alexis Lafreniere and LaMelo Ball are immortalized in some distant Detroit future. Write it down!! So let’s pose a more open-ended question, which may or may not leave us in a similarly bleak place: What’s Detroit’s best *collective* draft class this century? 

That is, which year gave our four teams the best batch of players?

This is where I’d like to tell you the Tigers drafted Justin Verlander in the same year the Lions drafted Calvin Johnson, the Wings drafted Jimmy Howard and the Pistons drafted Tayshaun Prince. And truth be told, 2004 was a halfway-decent year for Detroit. On top of Verlander, we saw the arrivals of Johan Franzen and Roy Williams. But the Pistons missed with their only pick, and the rest of the class was pretty depressing.

Caputo: Five Things Tigers Must Get Right In MLB Draft

That’s mostly how it’s been this century. Our teams haven’t been able to get it together in the same year. Recently, they've barely been able to get it together at all. Since 2013, our four teams have drafted a total of nine All-Stars/Pro-Bowlers, only six of whom gained those honors in Detroit, only four of whom are still here. In the 20 draft classes since 2015, that list shrinks to two: Kenny Golladay and Jamal Agnew. That's not to say new stars won't emerge -- we're looking at you, Tigers! -- but it explains in part how we've ended up in this epic pit of despair

Still, a few collective classes in the last 20 years are worth hanging on the fridge. Let’s start with three finalists, then, with the help of our experts, crown a winner.

*We’re listing the notable names only. The others would hurt you.*

2002

Lions: QB Joey Harrington (Round 1, No. 3 overall), DE Kalimba Edwards (2/35 overall), DB Andre’ Goodman (3/68)

Tigers: Curtis Granderson (3/80), Joel Zumaya (11/320)

Red Wings: Jiiri Hudler (2/58), Tomas Fleischmann (2/63), Valtteri Filppula (3/95), Jonathan Ericsson (9/291)

Pistons: Tayshaun Prince (1/23)

I know, it’s hard to look past Joey. And the Lions didn’t exactly strike gold with Edwards and Goodman either. But the Tigers brought in two core members of a team that sparked Detroit’s baseball renaissance, and Granderson is a Tiger forever. The Wings landed two key pieces of their most recent Stanley Cup championship in Hudler and Filppua and a longtime rock on the blueline in Ericsson. Including the playoffs, that trio has played over 1,700 games for Detroit. And in Prince, the Goin’ To Work Pistons got a player who helped lay the foundation for their Eastern Conference reign and who sealed their 2004 championship.  

Trade Notes

  • Granderson was dealt to the Yankees in 2009 as part of a trade for Max Scherzer and Austin Jackson. Jackson would later be dealt as part of a trade for David Price, who would later be dealt for Daniel Norris and Matthew Boyd.
  • Fleischmann was dealt to the Capitals in 2004 as part of a trade for Robert Lang.

2013

Lions: Ziggy Ansah (1/5), Darius Slay (2/36), Larry Warford (3/65), Devin Taylor (4/132), Sam Martin (5/165), Theo Riddick (6/199)

Tigers: Corey Knebel (1/39), Buck Farmer (5/156), Chad Green (11/336)

Red Wings: Anthony Mantha (1/20), Tyler Bertuzzi (2/58)

Pistons: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (1/8)

2013 was a good year for Detroit. It was also a missed opportunity. The Lions found three Pro Bowlers with their first three picks, and all they have to show for it now is a couple playoff losses. Worse, all three of them are gone. Worse still, the best among them was run out of town by a regime that didn’t want him. The Tigers had two high-end bullpen arms in Knebel and Green – imagine that! – but never reaped the rewards. The Pistons, in a rebuild that ached for an impact player, took KCP two picks before C.J. McCollum and seven picks before Giannis. Here’s hoping the Wings make the most of Mantha and Bertuzzi.

Trade Notes

  • Slay was dealt to the Eagles in 2020 for draft capital that allowed the Lions to select Jonah Jackson and Quintez Cephus.
  • Knebel was dealt to the Rangers in 2014 as part of a trade for Joakim Soria, who would later be dealt to the Pirates for JaCoby Jones.
  • Green was dealt to the Yankees in 2015 as part of a trade for Justin Wilson, who would later be dealt to the Cubs for Isaac Paredes and Jeimer Candelario.

2018

Lions: Frank Ragnow (1/20), Kerryon Johnson (2/43), Tracy Walker (3/82), Da’Shawn Hand (4/114)

Tigers: Casey Mize (1/1), Parker Meadows (2/44), Kody Clemens (3/79), Tarik Skubal (9/255)

Red Wings: Filip Zadina (1/6), Joe Veleno (1/30), Jonatan Berggren (2/33)

Pistons: Bruce Brown (2/42)

We’re doing a lot of hoping here – ‘tis the season! But there’s a lot to like about the 2018 class, starting with Bob Quinn’s best haul as GM of the Lions. Ragnow looks like a cornerstone on the offensive line, Walker is becoming one in the secondary, and the ceilings for Johnson and Hand remain high if they can stay healthy. The Tigers scored two of their Big Three in Mize and Skubal, and Meadows is one of the best athletes in their system. Filip Zadina was the Wings’ most exciting draft pick in ages, and he began to meet some of the hype this season. And the Pistons did well to grab Brown, an emerging member of their core, in the second round.

So that’s our ballot.

Yes, you could make a case for 2004, and one of our voters does. And you could point to 2007 as well, when the Lions landed Megatron and the Tigers brought in Rick Porcello (and First-Team All-Name member Charlie Furbush!). But in either case, there’s not enough meat on the bone after the juicy names, with due respect to the likes of Brendan Smith and Rodney Stuckey.

My vote, for whatever it’s worth, is for 2002. It’s a class that helped fuel the last run of success for our city’s teams. The Pistons don’t win without Tayshaun, the Wings don’t win without Hudler and Filppula, who combined for 25 points in the 2008 playoffs, and the Tigers don’t make that intoxicating trip to the World Series without Granderson and Zumaya. Special nod to Granderson, whose 2007 season quietly remains one of the best in MLB history.

For the rest of the panel, we turn to seven of our hosts. (The eighth, Mike Valenti, was not available for comment.)

Jamie: What a sad state of affairs for our teams that this is the best we have to choose from. I'll go with 2002. It produced key members of championship teams (Prince, Hudler, Ericsson, Filppula) and a cornerstone-type player in Curtis Granderson who would have flourished here if he wasn't dealt to the Yankees as part of the Max Scherzer trade. There is certainly some promise in the 2018 drafts, but we've probably said the same time and time again about some other years – and until they come through, they don't qualify. 

Stoney: ​Talk about chicken salad out of chicken shit. (Nice, Stoney.) I vote for 2013, one of best Lions drafts this century…KCP is a good player…Mantha and Bertuzzi are two of the Wings’ best players. And the Tigers’ draft wasn’t good, but still produced some major-leaguers. Obviously 2018 has a chance to be the best, but that is a gamble.

Karsch: This is a wholly depressing exercise. But I have the correct answer. 2018. Because all the rest of are so underwhelming ... 2018 has to be better. Right? Right?​

Gator: ​I'll go with 2013.  Mantha and Bert, KCP, Ziggy/Slay/Warford/Riddick/Martin and some average arms in baseball.  

Wojo: My vote, incredibly, is for 2018, not knowing if any of those guys will be any good. But we know the other classes didn't produce stars. I considered 2013, but I wasn’t a fan of the KCP pick.

Riger: I would choose 2004, even if Williams, (Kevin) Jones and Franzen weren’t selected -- because that was the year the Tigers took Justin Verlander. Verlander is not only the best draft pick in the last 29 years by any Detroit team, but the greatest Tigers pitcher I’ve ever seen and maybe to ever wear the Old English D. Despite the cheating scandal in Houston, Verlander gave Detroit countless unforgettable moments. From his first no-hitter against the Brewers to a couple of must-win complete games against the A’s in the playoffs, Verlander was the face of the Tigers for over a decade. He’ll one day be in Cooperstown wearing a Tigers hat.

Caputo: 2002. Granderson and Zumaya were big difference-makers in getting the Tigers turned around, and Prince was a great pick for late in the first round.

So we have ourselves a winner, unless Valenti would like to get back to me to cast a vote and/or fire everyone responsible for the draft crimes of this century.

2002 it is!!

If you think that’s an oversight -- that, surely, Detroit must have produced a better draft class in the past 20 years than one that includes Kalimba Edwards -- the full list of notable players is below. Have at it. You’ll be surprised, for one, just how far we can stretch 'notable.' 

Just don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Tigers 

2000: SS Nook Logan (3/78), P Mark Woodyard (4/108)
2001: 3B Jack Hannahan (3/87), C Mike Rabelo (4/117), 3B Ryan Raburn (5/147), SS Don Kelly (8/237), P Humberto Sanchez (31, 927)
2002: SS Scott Moore (1/8), OF Brent Clevlen (2/49), OF Curtis Grandson (3/80), C Luke Carlin (10/290), P Joel Zumaya (11/320), P Jesse Carlson (15/440)
2003: P Jay Sborz (2/40), SS Tony Giarratano (3/70), P Virgil Vasquez (7/190), P Brian Rogers (11/310), P Jordan Tata (16/460), C Dusty Ryan (48/1405)
2004: P Justin Verlander (1/2), OF Jeff Frazier (3/73), SS Brent Dlugach (6/163), P Luke French (8/223)
2005: OF Cameron Maybin (1/10), C Chris Robinson (3/90), P Kevin Whelan (4/120), 1B Jeff Larish (5/150), OF Clete Thomas (6/180), P Anthony Claggett (11/330), OF Matt Joyce (12/360), PF Casper Wells (14/420), SS Michael Hollimon (16/480), P Burke Badenhop (19/570), 2B Will Rhymes (27/810)
2006: P Andrew Miller (1/6), CF Brennan Boesch (3/82), 2B Scott Sizemore (5/142), P Angel Castro (13/382), P Duane Below (19/562), P Casey Fien (20/592)
2007: P Rick Porcello (1/27), SS Danny Woryh (2/91), P Luke Putkonen (3/121), P Charlie Furbush (4/151), P Casey Crosby (5/181)
2008: P Ryan Perry (1/21), C Alex Avila (5/163), OF Andy Dirks (8/253), P Robbie Weinhardt (10/313), P Thad Weber (16/493)
2009: P Jacob Turner (1/9), P Andy Oliver (2/58), SS Daniel Fields (6/180), P Adam Wilk (11/330), P Giovanni Soto (21/630)
2010: 3B Nick Castellanos (1/44), P Chance Ruffin (1/48), P Drew Smyly (2/68), C Rob Brantly (3/100), C Bryan Holaday (6/193), P Kyle Ryan (12/373), P Jeff Ferrell (26/793)
2011: C James McCann (2/76), OF Tyler Collins (6/197), P Brian Flynn (7/227), C Curt Casali (10/317), P Chad Smith (17/527), P Guido Knudson (28/857), P Mike Kickham (33/1007)
2012: P Jake Thompson (2/91), P Drew Verhagen (4/154), 2b Devon Travis (13/424)
2013: P Corey Knebel (1/39), P Buck Farmer (5/156), P Zac Reiniger (8/246), P Chad Green (11/336), P Joe Mantiply (27/816)
2014: OF Derek Hill (1/23), P Spencer Turnbull (2/63) C Grayson Greiner (3/99), P Artie Lewicki (8/250), OF Mike Gerber (15/460), P Locke St. John (32/970)
2015: P Beau Burrows (1/22), OF Christin Stewart (1/34), P Tyler Alexander (2/65), P Drew Smith (3/99), P Matt Hall (6/190), P Kyle Dowdy (12/370)
2016: P Matt Manning (1/9), P Kyle Funkhouser (4/115), P Bryan Garcia (6/175), P John Schrieber (15/445)
2017: P Alex Faedo (1/18)
2018: P Casey Mize (1/1), OF Parker Meadows (2/44), 2B Kody Clemens (3/79), P Tarik Skubal (9/255)
2019: OF Riley Greene (1/5), 3B Nick Quintana (2/47), 3B Andre Lipcius (3/83) 

Red Wings

2000: D Niklas Kronwall (1/29), C Tomas Kopecky (2/38)
2001: G Drew MacIntyre (4/121), D Dmitri Bykov (8/258)
2002: C Jiri Hudler (2/58), LW Tomas Fleischmann (2/63), C Valtteri Filppula (3/95), D Derek Meech (7/229), D Jonathan Ericsson (9/291)
2003: G Jimmy Howard (2/64), D Kyle Quincey (4/132)
2004: LW Johan Franzen (3/97)
2005: C Cory Emmerton (2/41), C Shawn Matthias (2/47), LW Jan Mursak (6/182)
2007: D Brendan Smith (1/27), C Joakim Andersson (3/88)
2008: G Tomas McCollum (1/30), RW Gustav Nyquist (4/121)
2009: C Landon Ferraro (2/32), C Tomas Tatar (2/60), RW Andrej Nestrasil (3/75), D Nick Jensen (5/150)
2010: C Riley Sheahan (1/21), C Calle Jarnkrok (2/51), LW Teemu Pulkkinen (4/111), G Petr Mrazek (5/141)
2011: RW Tomas Jurco (2/35), D Xavier Oullet (2/48), D Ryan Sproul (2/55), D Alexei Marchenko (7/205)
2012: RW Martin Frk (2/49), LW Andreas Athanasiou (4/110)
2013: RW Anthony Mantha (1/20), LW Tyler Bertuzzi (2/58), C Mattias Janmark (3/79)
2014: C Dylan Larkin (1/15), C Dominic Turgeon (3/63), C Christoffer Ehn (4/106)
2015: LW Evgeny Svechnikov (1/19)
2016: D Dennis Cholowski (1/20), RW Givani Smith (2/46), D Filip Hronek (2/53), G Filip Larsson (6/167)
2017: C Michael Rasmussen (1/9), D Gustav Lindstrom (2/38), G Keith Petruzzeli (3/88)
2018: RW Filip Zadina (1/6), C Joe Veleno (1/30), RW Jonatan Berggren (2/33)
2019: D Moritz Seider (1/6), D Antti Tuomisto (2/35)

Lions 

2000: OT Stokar McDougle (1/20), LB Barrett Green (2/50), RB Reuben Droughns (3/81), DT Alfonso Boone (7/253)
2001: OT Jeff Backus (1/18), C Dominic Raiola (2/50), DT Shaun Rogers (2/61)
2002: QB Joey Harrington (1/3), DE Kalimba Edwards (2/35), DB Andre’ Goodman (3/68)
2003: WR Charles Rogers (1/2), LB Boss Bailey (2/34), DE Cory Redding (3/66), DB Terrence Holt (5/137), LB James Davis (5/144)
2004: WR Roy Williams (1/7), RB Kevin Jones (1/30), LB Teddy Lehman (2/37)
2005: WR Mike Williams (1/10), DT Shaun Cody (2/37), QB Dan Orlovsky (5/145)
2006: LB Ernie Sims (1/9), DB Daniel Bullocks (2/40), T Jonathan Scott (5/141)
2007: WR Calvin Johnson (1/2), QB Drew Stanton (2/43), DB Gerald Alexander (2/61), G Manuel Ramirez (4/117)
2008: T Gosder Cherilus (1/17), RB Kevin Smith (3/64) LB Cliff Avril (3/92), FB Jerome Felton (5/146)
2009: QB Matthew Stafford (1/1), TE Brandon Pettigrew (1/20), DB Louis Delmas (2/33), LB DeAndre Levy (3/76), DT Sammie Lee Hill
2010: DT Ndamukong Suh (1/2), RB Jahvid Best (1/30), DB Amari Spievey (3/66), T Jason Fox (4/128), DE Willie Young (7/213)
2011: Nick Fairley (1/13), WR Titus Young (2/44), RB Mikel Leshoure (2/57)
2012: T Riley Reiff (1/23), LB Tahir Whitehead (5/138)
2013: DE Ziggy Ansah (1/5), CB Darius Slay (2/36), G Larry Warford (3/65), DE Devin Taylor (4/132), P Sam Martin (5/165), RB Theo Riddick (6/199)
2014: TE Eric Ebron (1/10), LB Kyle Van Noy (2/40), C Travis Swanson (3/76), DB Nevin Lawson (4/133), DT Caraun Reid (5/158), WR T.J. Jones (6/189)
2015: G Laken Tomlinson (1/28), RB Ameer Abdullah (2/54), DB Quandre Diggs (6/200)
2016: T Taylor Decker (1/16), DT A’Shawn Robinson (2/46), C Graham Glasgow (3/95), G Joe Dahl (5/151)
2017: LB Jarrad Davis (1/21), WR Kenny Golladay (3/96), CB Jamal Agnew (5/165)
2018: C Frank Ragnow (1/20), RB Kerryon Johnson (2/43), S Tracy Walker (3/82), DE Da’Shawn Hand (4/114)
2019: TE T.J. Hockenson (1/8), LB Jahlani Tavai (2/43)

Pistons 

2000: Mateen Cleaves (1/14), Brian Cardinal 2/44)
2001: Rodney White (1/9), Mehmet Okur (2/38)
2002: Tayshuan Prince (1/23)
2003: Darko Milicic (1/2), Carlos Delfino (1/25)
2004: Rickey Paulding (2/54)
2005: Jason Maxiell (1/26), Amir Johnson (2/56)
2006: Will Blalock (2/60)
2007: Rodney Stuckey (1/15), Arron Afflalo (1/27)
2008: D.J. White (1/29)
2009: Austin Daye (1/15), Jonas Jerebko (2/39), Chase Budinger (2/44)
2010: Greg Monroe (1/7)
2011: Brandon Knight (1/8), Kyle Singler (2/33)
2012: Andre Drummond (1/9), Khris Middleton (2/39)
2013: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (1/8)
2014: Spencer Dinwiddie (2/38)
2015: Stanley Johnson (1/8)
2016: Henry Ellenson (1/18)
2017: Luke Kennard (1/12)
2018: Bruce Brown (2/42)
2019: Sekou Doumbouya (1/15)