This is the first article in a 12 part series that will examine which colleges have been the best at producing Detroit Lions in the 21st century. First up will be a look at Lions players from the University of California
Zack Follett had a very productive four-year career at the University of California, totaling 224 tackles and 22.5 sacks. He had a great senior season at Cal in 2008, finishing with 87 tackles, 23 of which were for a loss, 10.5 sacks, four passes defended and five forced fumbles. At California, he earned a reputation as an extremely hard hitter.
Zack Follett would go on to be drafted by the Lions with the 235th overall pick in the 2009 NFL draft. In his rookie year, he would see mostly play on special teams, where he recorded four tackles. Follett was even more of a special teams standout in his second year, where he recorded 17 tackles in five games.
Follett’s career would end on a kickoff in 2010 in a week six game against the New York Giants. Zack Follett suffered a severe neck injury that left him momentarily paralyzed on the field, although he did regain the ability to move his limbs before being taken to the hospital. He then underwent an eight-month long rehab process that ultimately led to his retirement.
Although he was likely never going to be a star player, Follett was a special teams standout for the Lions known for his hard hits.
Marvin Jones had only one reception in his freshman season with the Golden Bears, but he then went on to have three very solid seasons. In his sophomore through senior seasons, he averaged 52 receptions for 754 yards and four touchdowns per season, with his receptions and yards increasing each season.
Marvin Jones started his NFL career by being drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in the fifth round of the 2012 NFL draft.
Jones had a good rookie season for a fifth-round receiver, starting five games and making 18 receptions for 201 yards and a touchdown. As many second year players do in the NFL, Jones had a great sophomore season in 2013 with Bengals, hauling in 51 passes for 712 yards and 10 touchdowns. He would suffer an ankle injury before the start of the 2014 season and missed every game.
Jones would finish his time with the Bengals with arguably his best NFL season, as he had 65 receptions for 816 yards.
In the 2016 offseason, Marvin Jones became a free agent and signed a five-year $40,000,000 contract with the Detroit Lions. Jones would go on to set a new career high for yardage with the Detroit Lions, totaling 930 yards in 15 games. Many considered Jones’ first season with the Lions to be somewhat disappointing, but he still has a lot of potential to become a great Detroit Lion.
Jahvid Best had the best career at the University of California of any of the players on this list. In three seasons, Best had 2668 yards while averaging a ridiculous 7.3 yards per carry with 29 rushing touchdowns. He also had 533 receiving yards and six receiving touchdowns. In his 2008 season, he had 1580 rushing yards and 15 rushing touchdowns while averaging 8.1 yards per carry.
Jahvid Best was drafted by the Detroit Lions with the 30th pick in the first round of the 2010 NFL draft. Best had a good, but underwhelming rookie season, rushing for 555 yards and four touchdowns, but only averaged 3.2 yards per carry. He also caught 58 passes for 487 yards and two touchdowns.
In 2011, Best was off to a fantastic start to the season. He had 390 yards in the first six games, averaging 4.6 yards per carry. In that same period, he also had 287 receiving yards. In the last full game that Jahvid Best ever played, he had 12 carries for 163 yards and a touchdown against the Chicago Bears, including this 88-yard touchdown to effectively put the game away.
Jahvid Best had a very sad ending to his career, as he was forced to retire due to concussions. Best had two concussions during his senior season at California and would suffer another two concussions in his second year with the Lions. Jahvid Best was an extremely talented player, and he showed a lot of potential, but injury got in the way of him becoming the greatest Lions running back since Barry Sanders.
The theme of Lions players from the University of California is “what could have been?”. Follett and Best both had lots of potential but saw their careers tragically cut short. They did contribute to the Lions in their short time with the team though, which is worth something. At this point, Marvin Jones is the only hope of salvaging the University of California’s reputation among Lions fans. He had a very up and down first season in Detroit and fans are unsure of what to expect from him this season. Overall, players from the University of California have raised Lions fans’ hopes only to then crush them through injury or failure to live up to expectations.