Friday, September 16, 2016

Detroit Lions All Career-Year Team

By John Turney

At Pro Football Journal we are trying to pick the best individual seasons in the history of each franchise, which we will continue today with the Lions. By "Career-year" we mean the best performances at each position, with the following rule: Only one season per player per position. For example, here, we cannot pick Barry Sanders’s best two seasons and use all RB slots.

Here is the team, First-teams on left, Second-teams on right:
With the single-wing the tailback was usually the passer, the playcaller, the leader, what really became the quarterback in the T-formation. Dutch Clark, 1936, is the First-team passer and his backup is Bobby Layne, 1952.

The Lions honorable mentions are Matthew Stafford, 2011, Scott Mitchell, 1995, Earl Morrall, 1963, and also Greg Landry, 1972. Stafford ad Mitchell set all sorts of records in their seasons, but didn't have the team success of Clark and Layne. Landry was a Pro Bowler in 1971, but we chose 1972 instead. He accounted for 27 touchdowns and was 8-5-1 as a starter, slightly better than 1971. We are not sure it's really a true honorable mention, but since we usually consider all Pro Bowl years, we looked at it and called an audible.
Calvin Johnson, 2012, and Herman Moore, 1995, grab the top two spots followed by Leon Hart, 1951, and Cloyce Box, 1952. Johnson and Moore, in pass-happy eras, piled up numbers that were impressive, even in an era where numbers are often bloated. Hart and Box got the next spots due to the touchdown receptions they accumulated.

Pat Studstill, 1966, and Terry Barr, 1963, Gail Cogdill, 1963, all were excellent. Roy Williams2006, Freddie Scott, 1981, Golden Tate, 2014, Brett Perriman1995 were as well, and all are special mentions.

First-team tight end is Charlie Sanders, 1971, followed by Jim Gibbons, 1964. The honorables are David Sloan, 1999, David Hill, 1978, and Jim Doran, 1957.

The slot receiver spot is filled by Jeff Chadwick, 1983, and then  Leonard Thompson, 1979. The two honorable mentions are Shaun McDonald, 2007, and Az-Zahir Hakim, 2004, a couple of former St. Louis Rams.

The fullback is Father Lumpkin, 1932, backed up by  Cory Schlesinger, 2001, and honorable mention Jerome Felton, 2009. Lumpkin was called a "blocking back" in the old formations but we convert that to the modern "fullback" and Lumpkin comes with the praise of Paul Zimmerman who gave him a mention in his 1930s All-Decade team.

The third-down back is Theo Riddick, 2015, First-team and the Second-teamer is Joique Bell, 2012 with Shawn Bryson, 2004, the honorable mention.

The First-team running backs are Barry Sanders, 1997, and Ernie Caddel, 1935. The Second-team selections are Billy Sims, 1981, and Doak Walker, 1954.

Sanders has many seasons that qualify, but we went with his 2,000 yard MVP season of 1997. Cadell was a major cog in the good 1930s Lions teams.

The honorable mention backs are Frankie Sinkwich, 1944, Ace Gutowsky, 1936, Glenn Presnell, 1933, Nick Pietrosante, 1960 (5.4 yards a carry), Bob Hoernschemeyer, 1951, Mel Farr, 1967, Whizzer White, 1940, James Jones, 1986, and Steve Owens, 1971.

At center, we have chosen Charlie Ane, 1956, as the First-teamer and Alex Wojciechowicz, 1939, as the Second-teamer. The honorable mentions are Ed Flanagan, 1970, and Kevin Glover, 1995.

Ox Emerson, 1934, and Dick Stanfel, 1953, are the guards. The backups are Harley Sewell, 1957, and John Gordy, 1964. The top two were All-Pros and the next two were Second-team All-Pros,.

Eric Andolsek, 1991, Joe Milinichik, 1988, Russ Bollinger, 1980, and Augie Lio, 1942, all rate as honorable mentions.
Lou Creekmur, 1952, and  Lomas Brown, 1995, are the First-team picks at tackle followed by George Christensen, 1933 and Keith Dorney, 1981.

Rocky Freitas, 1972, Jack Johnson, 1936, and moderns Gosder Cherilus, 2010 (2 holds, 2 sacks allowed) and Jeff Backus, 2012 (1.5 sacks allowed and 3 holds). Backus was a whipping boy in Detroit for several years but turned in a fine 2012. 

Eddie Murray, 1980, was a step ahead of his peers early on as was Jason Hanson, 1997.  Errol Mann, 1970, is an honorable mention.
Jim Arnold, 1987, and Tom Skladany, 1981 are the top punters, both All-Pros.   Sam Martin, 2015, and Yale Lary, 1964, are the honorable mentions based on excellent stats.

Jack Christiansen, 1951 (18 returns-343  yards-19.1 and 4 touchdowns) is the clear top punt return season in Lions history. Eddie Drummond, 2004, is next for his 2 touchdowns.

Tom Watkins, 1964, Mel Gray, 1991, Desmond Howard, 2000, Dick Jauron, 1974, and Pete Mandley 1985 are all honorable mentions.

Mel Gray, 1994 (45 returns-1276 yards-28.4 average and 3 touchdowns)  is the top kick returner. Terry Fair, 1998, is next with the honorable mention selections of Eddie Drummond, 2004,  Ron Jessie, 1971, and  Bobby Williams, 1969.

Paul Butcher, 1988, is the First-team special teams player and John Wendling, 2010, takes the Second-team position. The honorable mentions are Toby Caston, 1989, and Ivory Sully, 1987

Al Baker, 1978, and Ezekiel Ansah, 2015, are the ends. Robert Porcher, 1999, and Larry Hand, 1972, back them up.

Baker was a rookie phenom, he had 71 tackles, 2 PD, 2 FF and 23 sacks, the most PFJ's research has found in a single-season, though not the top number on a per-game basis since the NFL schedule was expanded to 16 games that season. Ansah had 47 tackles, 14.5 sacks and lots of QB hits.

Porcher's 1999 was slowed a bit by missing two games, but he still was a Pro Bowler, All-NFC and had 48 tackles, 15 sacks and 3 forced fumbles. Hand was a steady consistent type and in 1972 he had 9 sacks and was Second-team All-Pro.

William Gay, 1983 (All-NFC, 59 tackles, 13.5 sacks),  Darris McCord, 1957 (Pro Bowl), Cliff Avril, 2011 (38 tackles, 11 sacks, 6 FF, 4 passes deflected, a pick and 3 fumbles recovered, one going for a TD) and Dave Pureifory, 1981 (11½ sacks) are garner HM selections.
Alex Karras, 1965 (All-Pro, 16 sacks) and  Roger Brown, 1962 (All-Pro, 13 sacks) take the top two defensive tackle spots. Doug English, 1983 (All-Pro, 62 tackles, 13 sacks, and recorded 2 safeties) and Ndamukong Suh, 2010 (All-Pro, 65 tackles, 10 sacks, 1 INT and 1 FR that was returned for a touchdown) are the top backups.

Luther Elliss, 1999 (Pro Bowl), Shaun Rogers, 2004 (Second-team All-Pro, Pro Bowl, 68 tackles—10.0 were stuffs, 4 sacks, 5 passes defensed, and 3 blocked kicks),  Thurman McGraw, 1952 (All-Pro), all Pro Bowlers are honorable mentions as is Herb Orvis, 1975, who was Second-team All-NFC selection.
Jerry Ball, 1989, is the top nose tackle, with middle guard Les Bingaman, 1953, and the backup4-3 shade tackle Henry Thomas, 1995, is an honorable mention along with Doug English's 1985 season when he moved to nose tackle and had excellent season.

Ball had 73 tackles, 9 sacks and 14 stuffs in 1989, all high numbers for a 3-4 nose tackle. Bingaman was likely the largest player of his time, and not always considered a "hustle type" but in 1953 he was All-Pro and noted as a good player in the literature of the time.
Joe Schmidt's 1961 is the pick but he could have had a half-dozen seasons chosen including 1957, 1960 and others. Chris Spielman, 1994 (All-Pro, 195 tackles, 3 FF and 3 FR, one for a score), gets the nod over 1991. The fine honorable mentions are Mike Lucci, 1971 (Pro Bowl, 5 picks with 2 going for touchdowns), Stephen Boyd, 2000 (Pro Bowl, 139 tackles), and Stephen Tulloch, 2011 (111 tackles, 3 sacks, 3 FR, one for a TD and 2 picks and 9 PDs).

Mike Cofer, 1988 (Pro Bowl, 75 tackles, 12 sacks and 3 forced fumbles), and Wayne Walker, 1965 (All-Pro, 2 picks, 4½ sacks), are the outside backers. Cofer played in an era where it was difficult to be voted All-Pro as his position since there was such competition. Players of that era included Lawrecne Taylor, Andre Tippett, Rickey Jackson, Kevin Greene, Pat Swilling and others.

Paul Naumoff, 1975 and Alex Wojciechowicz, 1944 are the backups. Naumoff was Second-team All-Pro in 1970 and Second-team All-NFC in 1975. We chose the latter in that he was known as a tough run defender but in 1975 he had a career-high in interceptions (2) and sacks (6½). Wojciechowicz was a two-way player and in addition to being a center, he was also a linebacker and in 1944 he intercepted 7 passes and was All-Pro according to Pro Football Illustrated.

Jimmy Williams,  1989, Charlie Weaver, 1976, and DeAndre Levy, 2013, are the honorable mentions. Williams was a solid player for a long time, and never got a lot of recognition. In an era where the rushbackers dominated, Williams was a good coverage linebacker, could blitz and was a good run defender. In 1985 he had 7 sacks, but we chose 1989 when he still had 4 sacks but picked off 5 passes, deflected 9 passes and had 95 tackles. Weaver, in 1976 had 7 sacks and intercepted 2 passes and recovered 2 fumbles and was solid in all phases of the game. Levy's season consisted of 117 tackles and 6 interceptions, a very high number for an outside linebacker. He was also credited with 15 passes defensed and one of his interceptions was returned for a touchdown and seven of his 117 tackles were run/pass stuffs.

Night Train Lane, 1961 (All-Pro), and Lem Barney, 1967 (Second-team All-Pro, 10 picks, 3 pick 6s), are the starting corners. Both Hall of Famers and both gamblers. Their backups are Dick LeBaeu, 1970 (Second-team All-Pro, 9 picks), whose 1965 season was also in serious consideration and Dre' Bly, 2003 (Pro Bowl).

Bob Smith, 1952, Jim David, 1954, Bryant Westbrook, 2000, and Chris Houston, 2011 all merit honorable mentions. Westbrook was a fine left corner, who would come up and force run plays. He blew out his Achilles tendon in a Thanksgiving game and it really, ended his career. he likely would have been a Pro Bowler that season.

Jack Christiansen, 1953 (All-Pro, 12 picks), is an easy choice as the left safety, with his backup the bale Don Doll, 1950. The honorable mention is Willie Clay, 1995 and Bennie Blades, 1991 (Second-team All-Pro).

Yale Lary, 1956, is the top free safety. Bennie Blades, 1991, is the Second-teamer. Blades played both strong- and free safety and was a Second-team All-Pro at free safety in 1991 and 1992. Glover Quin, 2014, and Dick Jauron, 1973, are the honorable mentions at free safety.

Jamar Fletcher, 2006, is our nickel with Keith Smith, 2007, the backup.  Kevin Scott, 1992 (4 interceptions) is the honorable mention.

The nickel rusher spot is manned by Kalimba Edwards, 2005. The Second-team pick is  Tracy Scroggins, 1993, with Antonio London 1999 the lone honorable mention

Agree? Disagree? Let us know where we erred in the comments sections below.


  1. Thankyou for doing this Lions all career year team.
    One of my favorite Lions here, Free Safety and original hangtime punter Yale Lary.

  2. I recall Joe Millinchick as an absolute mediocrity, curious how he wound up here

    1. This is a single season list, that year, in 1988 was rated as excellent run blocker and very good as pass blocker by Pro Scout, Inc.

  3. Ansah had 3.5 sacks in 2015 on Thanksgiving against a third string tackle. He generally has 2-3 amazing games against backups or non entities, then disappears the rest of the time

    1. He got 2.5 sacks off of Lane Johnson, a starting tackle who was moved to LT. Other sack on a Texas stunt and beat a starting guard. Don't know who the "third string tackle" you are talking about is. Again, the team is for a specific season and Ansah graded well that year and was a Pro Bowler.

  4. Just an opinion and hindsight is always kind, but George Halas giving up Bobby Layne, and watching Layne take the division for the Lions over the Bears,had to have haunted him for years.

    Yes, young NFL fans, Bobby Layne never wore a face mask, even in Pittsburgh and he just may have put a curse on this team that they may never recover from, at least until the Ford's give up ownership...

    If young fans can collect video broadcasts of Billy Sims, they will see an exciting player, who was on his way to the HOF before a knee injury ended his career.

  5. Kind of surprised on some of the players that didn't make it. I thought brett perriman would make the wr. Not surprised Dutch clark and Bobby layne were the qbs Kind of hard to beat those guys Clark was the master of the option offense and was a winner Layne more of a gunslinger, but definitely a winner Slay i figured would of been over bly. Interesting to say the least. Good job

  6. I personally would put jimmy "hatchet" david at starting nickel. He should be in the hof. The lions have a few players not in the hall that are on here. Karras, david, pressnell, caddell, ox, jack christiansen, jack Johnson, and gail cogdill to name a few.

    1. Jim David wasn't a nickel. I only put guys on thee if they played the position. David was a starter.