Will T.J. Hockenson Be The Latest Top Pick To Thrive After Leaving The Lions?

Written By Drew Ellis on November 9, 2022
TJ Hockenson traded to Vikings

Lost in the mix of a rare Detroit Lions victory on Sunday is that the team traded one of its top players a week ago.

Tight end T.J. Hockenson was dealt to the Minnesota Vikings as part of a trade that got the Lions an extra second-round pick in 2023 and a third in 2024.

It’s the latest example of a high draft pick not continuing their career with the Lions.

Will this be another of the former Lions to go on and excel in their time after Detroit? Or will they fade out as some others have?

Players who excelled after leaving the Lions

These former Lions draft picks left the team and went on to fruitful careers in their new franchises.

A’Shawn Robinson, 2016 2nd round, No. 46 overall

The Alabama defensive tackle was selected to be a run stuffer for the Lions.

In four seasons with the Lions he had 172 tackles and seven sacks before being allowed to go into free agency.

In 2020, Robinson signed with the Los Angeles Rams. During the 2021 Super Bowl season, Robinson had a career-high 67 tackles to go along with two sacks.

He’s started all eight games of the 2022 season with the Rams.

Laken Tomlinson, 2015 1st round, No. 28 overall

The Duke guard had questions about his commitment to football when drafted.

While he started 24 games in his first two years with Detroit, the Lions elected to trade him to San Francisco for a fifth-round pick.

Tomlinson proceeded to start every game he appeared in for the 49ers from 2017-2021. That included a Super Bowl appearance in 2019 and an NFC Championship in 2021.

Tomlinson was a Pro Bowl selection last season and has since signed a three-year deal with the New York Jets.

Quandre Diggs, 2015 6th round, No. 200 overall

You usually don’t expect much from a late-round pick, but this was one the Lions appeared to hit on.

The Texas safety spent four full seasons in Detroit and improved to being a starter in his last two seasons.

Diggs had 78 tackles and three interceptions in 2018. However, issues with head coach Matt Patricia ended his time in Detroit in 2019. He was traded to the Seattle Seahawks, with a seventh-round pick, for a fifth round pick.

Diggs would go on to be a Pro Bowl selection for Seattle in 2020 and 2021 with a combined 158 tackles and 10 interceptions. In March of this year, he signed a 3-year, $40 million extension with the Seahawks.

Kyle Van Noy, 2014 2nd round, No. 40 overall

One of many second-round linebackers not to work out in Detroit, the BYU alum lasted just 2.5 seasons with the Lions, recording 1 sack and 39 tackles.

Van Noy and a seventh-round pick were traded to the New England Patriots for a sixth-round pick during the 2016 season.

With the Pats, he started to hit the potential that some saw in him leading into the 2014 draft. He had 20.5 sacks over his New England career while winning two Super Bowls.

Van Noy had a short stint with Miami as well and now is with the L.A. Chargers. Van Noy has 28.5 career sacks and 444 tackles.

Darius Slay, 2013 2nd round, No. 36 overall

Slay had questions coming into the 2013 NFL Draft.

Coming off a knee injury, the Mississippi State cornerback had a slow first season in Detroit but then developed into one of the best defensive backs in football.

Over seven seasons in Detroit, Slay recorded 19 interceptions. That was led by an 8-interception season in 2017 that earned him All-Pro honors.

A three-time Pro Bowler with the Lions, his issues with Matt Patricia led him to be traded to the Philadelphia Eagles in March of 2020 for a third and fifth-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.

Slay has continued to play at a high level for the Eagles, picking up seven interceptions in three seasons, starting 38 games thus far. He was a Pro Bowler in 2021, as well.

Former Lions the jury is still out on

These early picks could still eventually plague the Detroit Lions as their careers continue to play out.

T.J. Hockenson, 2019 1st round, No. 8 overall

Hockenson was the second time in a five-year span the Lions selected a tight end with a top-10 pick in the NFL Draft.

Initially things looked good, as Hockenson put up 131 yards and a TD on six receptions in his NFL debut. He wouldn’t record another 100-yard game until he caught eight passes for 179 yards against Seattle on Oct. 2 of this year.

His best season was 2020, where he caught a career-high 67 passes for a career-high 723 yards and six touchdowns.

In his Minnesota debut, Hockenson caught nine passes for 70 yards.

Jahlani Tavai, 2019 2nd round, No. 43 overall

Tavai was a questionable pick at the time, considered a “reach” by many analysts.

The Hawaii linebacker had 58 tackles in each of his first two years with the Lions, including just two sacks and one interception.

Tavai made his way over to New England after being released in 2021. He had minimal impact last year with just 14 tackles in 13 games.

This season, he’s put up 33 tackles over nine games, including 1.5 sacks.

Matthew Stafford, 2009 1st round No. 1 overall

The first pick in the 2009 draft is the greatest quarterback to play in Detroit for many fans.

Stafford set 30 different Lions passing records over his 12 seasons with the franchise. He threw for a career-high 5,038 yards and 41 touchdowns in 2011 and helped lead Detroit to three playoff appearances.

In March of 2021, Stafford was traded to the L.A. Rams in a package deal for Jared Goff and two future first-round picks.

Stafford then proceeded to immediately go and win Super Bowl LVI with the Rams in the 2022 season, proving many of his doubters in Detroit wrong. He threw for 4,886 yards and 41 touchdowns last season. The Rams are struggling this year, starting just 3-5.

The Lions used the Rams draft pick last year to help move up and select Alabama receiver Jameson Williams. This year, the Rams pick could be in the top half of the draft.

If the Lions hit on Williams and the 2023 first-round pick, this trade could be one that worked out for both teams.

Players who did not do well after leaving the Lions

Not all ties that were severed proved to be bad for the Lions. Letting go of some of these high picks worked out in Detroit’s favor. Other than the fact that some were busts.

Kerryon Johnson, 2018 2nd round, No. 43 overall

The Auburn running back showed flashes of being special.

Johnson rushed for 101 yards in Week 3 of his rookie season and 158 in a month later.

However, injuries quickly became an issue. He played just 10 games as a rookie and eight in 2019. Johnson started to get phased out in 2020 for D’Andre Swift.

After leaving the Lions, Johnson made stops in Philadelphia and San Francisco, but hasn’t seen NFL game action. He has 1,225 career rushing yards.

Teez Tabor, 2017 2nd round, No. 53 overall

Tabor is one of Detroit’s most notorious bad draft picks.

A slow cornerback coming off a knee injury, Tabor always looked lost on the field in Detroit. He spent just two seasons with the Lions, starting a total of five games.

Tabor has been a journeyman since, making stops in San Francisco, Chicago, Atlanta and Seattle. He’s appeared in four games with the Seahawks this season, but has just one tackle.

Tabor is still seeking his first NFL interception.

Kenny Golladay, 2017 3rd round, No. 96 overall

Golladay is one of the few examples of the Lions using the draft properly and electing not to overpay for a skill position player.

The Northern Illinois receiver was taken in the third round by Detroit in 2017. What resulted was a very productive run with the Lions.

In 2018, Golladay caught 70 passes for 1,063 yards and five scores. That was followed with 65 catches for 1,190 yards and 11 scores in 2019.

In 2020, injuries limited Golladay to just five games, putting Detroit in a pickle. They chose not to give him a big contract and he instead went to New York and signed with the Giants for $72 million over four years.

Last season, Golladay had 37 catches for 521 yards. This year, he has played in just four games and has two catches for 22 yards. He’s yet to catch a TD as a Giant and is almost non-existent in the franchise currently.

The Lions electing not to sign him to a top receiver deal is proving to be the right choice.

Eric Ebron, 2014 1st round, No. 10 overall

Ebron was the first top-10 tight end taken by the Lions, right in front of Aaron Donald.

Ebron didn’t lack in confidence, but it didn’t lead to a lot of big performances on the field.

He had 11 touchdowns over four years in Detroit. His peak season was 61 catches for 711 yards in 2016.

After the 2017 season, the Lions released Ebron and he signed a 2-year, $13 million deal with the Indianapolis Colts.

To Ebron’s credit, he went on to catch 66 passes for 750 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2018. That earned him his first Pro Bowl selection. Since, the results faded quickly, dropping to 31 catches for 375 yards in 2019.

Ebron then went to Pittsburgh and played two seasons with six touchdown catches. He is currently not in the league.

Ndamukong Suh, 2010 1st round, No. 2 overall

Suh was a clear-cut choice for the Lions at No. 2 in 2010.

The Nebraska defensive tackle was pretty dominant with the Lions, earning three All-Pro honors and four Pro Bowl selections.

He had 36 sacks over five seasons with the Lions. Problem was, Suh wasn’t interested in being in Detroit and the Lions weren’t ready to give him a mega contract.

Suh signed with Miami in 2015 for $114 million over six years, the largest contract in NFL history for a defensive player. He lasted just three years in Miami and never had the same impact he had in Detroit.

Suh then moved on to a year with the L.A. Rams and three with Tampa Bay. He won Super Bowl LV with the Bucs, a season where he had six sacks in 16 games.

This offseason, Suh didn’t sign with a team and he’s not currently on an active roster.

While Detroit may have been right not to make him the NFL’s highest paid defender, not having options at defensive tackle for Suh’s departure has haunted them since.

Photo by Julio Cortez / Associated Press
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Drew Ellis

Drew Ellis is currently the Lead Writer of PlayILottery.com. He was the former Lead Writer of PlayMichigan, the No. 1 source for online gambling news in Michigan. A lifelong resident of the state, Ellis has been working in various forms of media since 1998, including more than a decade in the sports betting industry prior to transitioning into US casino markets in 2020.

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