Detroit Tigers: The NFL Draft Came Calling

(Photo by: Ron Kuntz Collection/Diamond Images/Getty Images)
(Photo by: Ron Kuntz Collection/Diamond Images/Getty Images) /

In honor of the NFL Draft this weekend, we take a look at a few former Detroit Tigers draft picks that either chose the gridiron or continued their baseball career.

The NFL Draft kicked off last night in Roger Goodell’s basement because necessity is the mother of invention. It got me thinking about looking up Detroit Tigers MLB draft picks that either went on to play with the organization or chose the gridiron of the NFL. (Not including Pat Mahomes)

D.J. Dozier:

DJ Dozier 18th round Detroit Tigers pick 1983 NFL Draft Pick 1987
(Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images) /

The Tigers drafted Dozier, the future Penn State running back in the 18th round of the 1983 draft. The multiple athlete star would not sign with Detroit, instead, he would go on to rack up over 3,000 yards for the Nittany Lions, win a national championship, and was an All-American in 1986. Drafted by the Minnesota Vikings 14th overall in the 1987 draft, he would play in the NFL until 1991. Ironically enough, his career would end as in Detroit as a member of the Lions but he would follow his way back to baseball.

In 1990, he tried out for the New York Mets and was signed as an amateur free agent.  After a couple of seasons in the minors, on May 6th, 1992,  he was called up to the majors. Per the Sporting News, he and NFL punter/halfback/defensive back Andy Tomasic are the only two players that have gone from a football career first then to the majors.  He joins a selected group of players that played both in the NFL and MLB. That list includes Brian Jordan, Deion Sanders, Bo Jackson, Matt Kinzer, Drew Henson, and Chad Hutchinson.

Rick Leach

Many Tigers fans are already familiar with the story of Rick Leach. The lefty quarterback was the heart and soul of Michigan football.  As a four-year starter, he led the Wolverines to three straight Big Ten titles from 1975 to 1978. His skills on the diamond were just as good, as he led the Big Ten in hitting as a junior in 1978.  

He was drafted by the NFL’s Denver Broncos (132nd overall) was even pursued by the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes in 1979. When he was drafted 13th overall in the first round by the Tigers, Leach was shocked he was picked that high.  This was a quote he gave to the Associated Press in an article published in 1979. 

“For a guy who can’t hit for power and throw too well,” he laughed, ” I guess I didn’t do too bad.”

Kirk Gibson

While Leach was all things University of Michigan during the mid to late ’70s, the same could be said for Kirk Gibson when it comes to Michigan State.  His football career in East Lansing was impressive:

  • As a wide receiver, he led the Spartans in receiving for three straight seasons from 1976 to 1978.
  • First-team All-Big Ten and an All-American in his senior year in 1978.
  • Still posses the school record for yards per catch (21.0)

That caught the eye of then the St.Louis Cardinals, who drafted him in the seventh round of the 1979 NFL Draft. This was a year after the Tigers took him 12th in the 1978 draft. However, Russ Thomas, the former Detroit Lions GM, knew the Cardinals were not going to be able to sign Gibson in an article in the Free Press from August 26th, 1980

"“The Cardinals had not done their homework,” said Thomas. We knew there would be no way he would be able to escape his baseball contract so that’s why the Lions didn’t draft him.”"

Gibson’s amazing career for Michigan State placed him in the College Football Hall of Fame in 2017. Add to that to a baseball resume that includes the 1988 MVP award as a member of the Dodgers, the 1984 ALCS MVP, and of course, one of the most memorable moments in Tigers World Series history.