We are back for another “Top 5 Greatest” list and the team today is the Detroit Lions. The Detroit Lions have had some great players in their franchise history over the years. Right now Detroit is in somewhat of a rebuild having just traded QB Matthew Stafford (he may be on this list who knows) and hiring a new coach in Dan Campbell. But let’s not be negative, you clicked on this link to check out the greatest Detroit Lions in history and that’s what I’m going to give you. As always leave any comments you may have at the bottom of the page. Let’s get to the list…
Matthew Stafford, Quarterback (2009-2021)
This might be because I got to see this guy play his whole career but Stafford for sure deserves a spot on my honorable mention. Stafford, who was just recently traded to the LA Rams, is one of the best quarterbacks in Lion’s history. He is the all-time leader in all things quarterback for the Lions franchise. His 2,634 total completions, 30,303 passing yards, 187 passing touchdowns, and 86.8 passer rating are the highest figures in each category ever set by all Lions quarterbacks. You might not like it but Stafford is for sure an all-time Detroit Lions great.
Doak Walker, Running Back (1950-1955)
Anytime a player has an award named after them that’s a good thing right? Well, in Doak Walker’s case that’s a reality as the Doak Walker award is awarded each year to the best running back in college football. While he had a short NFL career he definitely made the most of it. Walking away from football at the age of 29, Walker had won two world championships, been to five Pro Bowls and named All-Pro four times. The only reason Walker doesn’t own any all-time records is because of the fact he walked away from the game at such a young age.
Dick “Night Train” Lane, Cornerback (1960-1965)
Having spent only six of his seasons with the Lions, Dick “Night Train” still did enough during that time to land as an honorable mention. “Night Train” was one of the greatest cornerbacks of all time, but he often is overlooked because of all the good cornerbacks that have come since him. Lets be honest who actually goes back and does research anymore, oh wait I do. Anyways, Lane appeared in 66 games during his time in Detroit, racking up 21 interceptions, four fumble returns, and one touchdown. He was named to three Pro Bowls with Detroit and twice he was a First-Team All-Pro selection.
5.) Lem Barney, Cornerback/Kick Returner (1967-1977)
Lem Barney was the original person who wore the number 20 in Detroit before some other guy made that number even more famous a decade later. He was a lockdown cornerback and an explosive punt returner. In his first NFL game, he picked off Bart Starr’s first pass and returned it for a touchdown finishing his rookie season with the Defensive Rookie of the Year award and with three interceptions returned for touchdowns, which at that time was a rookie record. 11 seasons later, he retired as the Lions leader in interception return yardage, tied for first in return touchdowns, second in career interceptions and third in single-season interception return yards. Even with all those accomplishments he still wasn’t the best Detroit Lion to wear the number 20.
4.) Bobby Layne, Quarterback (1950-1958)
Bobby “Blonde Bomber” Layne was the quarterback during the only time the Detroit Lions were really successful. He played with the Lions from 1950-58. Layne did throw a lot of interceptions but he still found a lot of success in terms of winning games. The Lions won the NFL Championship in 1952, 1953, and 1957. Layne also was a five-time Pro Bowler and named to the First Team All-Pro two times.
3.) Joe Schmidt, Linebacker (1953-1965)
Joe Schmidt was drafted in the seventh round of the 1953 NFL Draft by the Lions joining a defense that was already strong, but Schmidt fit in just fine. By the 1956 season, Schmidt was elected a team captain, something he was until he retired after the 1965 season. Tackles weren’t an official stat back when Schmidt played, but he was one of the best of his time at doing that. Twice he was also named the best defender in football. After retiring from playing football, he came back two years later to coach the Lions, something he also found success. I’m curious what Schmidt’s tackle numbers would be and how it would rank all time. I imagine very very high.
2.) Calvin Johnson, Wide Receiver (2007-2015)
Calvin Johnson had he played 4-5 more years could have made a case for the number one spot on this list but number 2 isn’t too bad is it? Johnson played his whole career with the Lions and when he was on the field there was no one that could cover this guy. The guy was 6 foot 5 and ran a 4.35 40 yard dash, that almost seems unhuman for a guy that size. Megatron caught 731 passes for 11,169 yards and 83 touchdowns, was a six-time Pro Bowler and was named to an All-Pro team four different times. I wish the Lions and Johnson had not had issues late in his career which led him to retire as I thoroughly enjoyed watching him play. People will always wonder what more could have Johnson accomplished had he not retired early. Speaking of people who retired too soon that leads me to number 1…
1.) Barry Sanders, Running Back (1989-1998)
Barry Sanders is not only one of the greatest running backs in the history of the NFL but he is one of the greatest players period. Sanders was a ten time Pro Bowler and was a six-time All-Pro. He rushed for 15,269 yards and 99 touchdowns and if he hadn’t retired early those stats would have been even more impressive. The rare combination of power and speed that Sanders possessed made it damn near impossible for defenders to bring him to the ground. Sanders is clearly the best Detroit Lion of all time.
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