Looking back, some of the largest icons in NFL history are often the ones that can be overlooked. All franchises have had their fair share of historic players, but who were the best of the best? Here, we discuss the four most iconic players to step on the field. We continue our series with the Detroit Lions:
Honorable Mentions: Lem Barney, Dick Lane, Yale Lary
WR Calvin Johnson (2007-15)
Much like Barry Sanders, Johnson fulfilled a “generational” talent when he was on the football field. While many will speculate what could have been, Johnson is in the conversation for the Detroit Lions Mount Rushmore.
As the second overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft, ‘Megatron’ totaled 731 receptions, 11,619 receiving yards and 83 touchdowns. Despite only appearing in two career playoff games, he averaged nearly 150 receiving yards per game in January. As a six-time Pro Bowl talent and five-time All-Pro honoree, Johnson’s place on this segment is justified.
LB Joe Schmidt (1953-65)
While other middle linebackers receive more recognition than Joe Schmidt, he is regarded as one the most talented players in the early stages of the NFL. As a seventh-round selection from the University of Pittsburgh, Schmidt won titles in both 1953 and 1957. He was named to 10 Pro Bowls and eight All-Pro teams.
Even as a linebacker, Schmidt was responsible for 24 interceptions and 17 fumble recoveries. Shortly after retirement, he was hired as Detroit’s head coach and held the position for six seasons. While the team started off slow, they secured a playoff berth in 1970.
QB Bobby Layne (1948-62)
Prior to officially joining the Detroit Lions in 1950, Layne spent two seasons as part of the All-America Football Conference. During his nine-year tenure in the NFL, the Lions proceeded to win three titles. However, there is speculation whether Layne helped the team’s cause. During the postseason, he totaled one touchdown pass and 12 interceptions.
Still, the Lions won back-to-back titles over the Cleveland Browns from 1952-53. He was eventually traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers, and retired following the 1962 season. While his stats don’t catch our eyes, Layne resembled Lions football during the early stages of the NFL.
RB Barry Sanders (1989-98)
Despite only being in the NFL for 10 years, Sanders is regarded as one of the most talented players in the history of the game. As the third overall pick in the 1989 NFL Draft, Sanders was within the same draft class as Troy Aikman, Derrick Thomas, and Deion Sanders.
With 10 consecutive Pro Bowl nominations, Sanders finished his career with 15,269 rushing yards; 4th in NFL history. He played in 155 regular season games and averaged 99.8 yards per contest. He lead the league in rushing on four occasions and was named as Co-MVP alongside Green Bay’s Brett Favre in 1997.