Detroit Lions: 30 greatest players in franchise history

Detroit Lions. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Detroit Lions. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /
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Billy Sims, Detroit Lions
CHICAGO – DECEMBER 1981: (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

22. player. 50. . Running Back. (1980-1984). Billy Sims

Billy Sims coming in at No. 22 on this list may be a little low for some, but there is a method to the madness! It can be argued that Sims was even the most versatile running back in Lions’ franchise history.

Though that may be true, his time and production with the team was cut short as a result of injury. For me that’s noteworthy enough not to merit a higher placing.

Sims was the first overall pick of the 1980 NFL Draft. Early on, he sure lived up to the hype and then some. The former Heisman Trophy winner from the University of Oklahoma was already used to the hype that came along with being a major football presence. The scrutiny that he received upon his NFL debut was nothing new for him to handle.

Sims began his professional career by posting 1,303 and 1,437 total rushing yards during his first two years, respectively. He also tallied 13 touchdowns on the ground during each of his first two years.

He was shoo-in selection as 1980’s Associated Press (AP) Offensive Rookie of the Year award winner and was a Pro Bowler after his first three seasons. After missing seven games in 1982, it was the first time in Sims’ career that he didn’t gain over 1,000 yards as a rusher. However, he bounced back nicely with his third 1,000+ yard rushing performance in 1983 with 1,040.

Sims’ NFL career would unfortunately come to a sudden halt in 1984 after he suffered a knee injury during a game against the Minnesota Vikings. The injury was such that he was unable to play the game at its highest level ever again, despite two years of injury rehab.

Though his career was shortened due to injury, Sims is still a revered sports figure in Detroit. He was the second in a trio of former Lions who wore the jersey No. 20 with distinction along with Lem Barney and Barry Sanders. That jersey number is now retired in honor of all three former Lions greats.

To this day, Sims’ story provides Lions fans with a tantalizing “what if” scenario had he remained healthy.