The top 20 Detroit Lions of the last 20 years

Detroit Lions (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
Detroit Lions (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images) /
5 of 6
Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions
Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /

5/4. Dre’ Bly (2003-06) and Darius Slay (2013-19)- CB

This is one more set of players at the same position, and while Bly and Slay never played together, there are just too many similarities between them to not link them together. The lockdown corners had similar playing styles, their jersey numbers are inverse of each other (32/23), they had the same number of total interceptions as Lions (19), both were back-to-back Pro Bowl selections, even their names sound a little similar.

While Slay didn’t exactly leave Detroit on good terms, that doesn’t mean his accomplishments should be diminished by fans angry about how it ended.

Memorable feat: In the 2003 season alone, Bly came away with nine turnovers (6 interceptions, 3 fumble recoveries), forced five fumbles, and over 200 yards of return yardage off those turnovers, an astounding testament to his game-changing capabilities. The high point for Slay was the 2017 season, where he led the NFL in both interceptions (8) and passes defended (26) and was named first team All-Pro. He’s one of very few Lions defenders to reach three consecutive Pro Bowls.

3. Calvin Johnson (2007-15)- WR

In his nine seasons with the Lions, Megatron rewrote just about all of the team’s major receiving records for a season and a career (catches, yards, touchdowns). However, it was the individual moments of jaw dropping athleticism (the catches in triple coverage, the windmill dunks over the goal post wearing full football gear) that made him unlike any other.

While the Lions have had a hard time gaining respect league-wide (even the two guys I’m ranking above Calvin have their detractors), Calvin Johnson’s weekly displays of greatness were something any football fan in the country could appreciate.

His relatively early retirement after the 2015 season brought up unpleasant comparisons to Barry Sanders a generation earlier, and a bonus repayment dispute has soured his relationship with the team. However, the on-field greatness from the soft-spoken superstar was something I suspect we’ll all be telling our kids and grandkids about decades down the line.

Memorable feat: Led the NFL in receiving yards two times in a row, and set the league’s single season record with 1,964 in 2012. The next year, he had 329 yards in a single game, and came one catch away from breaking the NFL single game yardage record as well.

2. Ndamukong Suh (2010-14)- DT

Suh’s time in Detroit was too brief, but the amount of damage he wreaked for five years was probably plenty for other NFC North offenses. Suh’s very presence on the field gravitated so much attention to him that it allowed his teammate to shine as well. The appearances of Glover Quin, Ziggy Ansah, and DeAndre Levy on this list are due in large part to the double and triple teams that Suh attracted from the moment he entered the league.

With three All-Pro selections and four Pro Bowls in five years, Suh got plenty of individual recognition as well, but his impact on the very DNA of the Lions defense is why I nudged him in front of Calvin Johnson. With Suh, a defense that had been so bad for so long had a certain edge, a certain danger, and an attitude about it that finally made opposing teams take the Lions seriously. Plus there was the classic “SUUUUUHHH” chant vibrating through Ford Field after a sack or a stuffed run up the middle.

Memorable feat: The Lions had the NFL’s best rush defense in 2014, and Suh especially was barely even worth trying to run against. If it were an official stat, I swear Suh would have gotten the single season record for most offensive linemen pushed into their own running backs that year.