The Detroit Lions don’t have a rich history in terms of wins and losses, but they still have some legends that changed the franchise forever.
No coaches made the top five legends in franchise history, but one would have if we expanded it to six. Wayne Fontes, who was in charge of the Lions from 1988-96, would have made the list since he was named the AP Coach of the Year during the 1991 season.
Let’s take a look at the five biggest legends in Lions history.
5. Lem Barney
Lem Barney was selected with the 34th overall pick in the 1967 draft. He quickly made a big impression on the league as one of the best cover corners in football.
As a rookie, Barney had 10 interceptions which were enough to lead the NFL. Three of those interceptions were returned for a touchdown. In just 10 seasons, Barney had 56 career interceptions and 25 forced fumbles. He was also an elite kick returner.
Barney made seven Pro Bowls, and in 1992, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
4. Bobby Layne
People might forget but the Lions were actually a good team when Bobby Layne was under center.
Layne was with the Lions from 1950-58, leading the team to their most successful era in history. In each of the 1952 and 1953 seasons, he led the team to a 9-2 record. Three times with the Lions, Layne was named to the first-team All-Pro. Layne finished the 1951 season throwing for 2,403 yards and 26 touchdowns.
Layne was also a really good kicker for the Lions. Three times during his career with the Lions he was a top-10 kicker in the league.
In 1967, Layne was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
3. Matthew Stafford
Matthew Stafford hasn’t led the Lions to as much success as he probably would look, but how much of that really is his fault? Every year Stafford seems to keep the Lions in games that they probably shouldn’t be in.
Stafford has also fought through injuries during his career that many wouldn’t have been able to get through. His best season was in 2011 when he threw for 5,038 yards and 41 touchdowns.
If Stafford can win the NFC North and maybe a few playoff games before he retires, he can move up this list.
2. Calvin Johnson
Calvin Johnson might have retired too early for some, but he is still one of the greatest legends in Lions history.
Johnson was selected with the second overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft. There are a lot of expectations that surround being selected that high, but he lived up to all of those. In 2012, Johnson had the best season in NFL history for a wide receiver by catching 122 passes for 1964 yards and five touchdowns.
After nine seasons in the NFL, Johnson decided to hang up the cleats, which was a bit of a shock to everyone. He finished his career with 11,619 receiving yards.
From 2011 to 2013, he finished with 5,137 receiving yards, which is the most by any player over a three-year stretch in NFL history.
1. Barry Sanders
Barry Sanders is not only the biggest legends in Lions history, but he also ranks very highly on the list of NFL legends.
Sanders was picked 3rd overall by the Lions during the 1989 NFL Draft. Every time Sanders touched the ball there was a chance that he could take it the distance. Sanders’ best season was in 1997 when he rushed for 2,053 yards and 11 touchdowns. He made 1o Pro Bowls, six first-team all-pro teams, and earned one NFL MVP award.
Sanders, like Johnson, shocked a lot of people when he hung up the cleats, but that doesn’t make him any less of a legend.