How forgotten is Robert Porcher?
Not by various stat and college Halls of Fame but by general discussions we follow on Twitter and other Social Media. He just does not get much juice.
The Detroit Lions annual Man of the Year award is named after Robert Porcher in honor of his contributions to the community. He was inducted into the Black College Football Hall of Fame in 2017, the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame in 2018. In 2020 he was inducted into South Carolina Football Hall of Fame.
Robert Porcher was born in Wando, South Carolina, and first attended Tennessee State University (1988-89) and then finished at South Carolina State University (1990-91). As a senior, he had 86 tackles, 15 sacks and 24 of his tackles were behind the line of scrimmage. He was Division I-AA All-American, All-MEAC, and the MEAC Defensive Player of the Year
He was drafted in the first round of the 1992 NFL draft by the Detroit Lions. He was 6-¾, 275 pounds but didn't have a great 40-time, around 5.0 or so, but he worked with a sprint coach pre-draft and that helped his stock because his 'get off" was very good—a quick starter. But he'd been productive in college and moved well in short areas he had good quickness and an excellent first step as well as great strength.
It's good to see stories of guys who don't have the proverbial "great speed" have great success in the NFL. So with strength, technique and will, and determination, Porcher produced better than lots of players of similar size and with great speed.
In July he signed a four-year deal with the Lions are arrived weighing 287 pounds, having gained about 10 pounds since he was weighed in the pre-draft time frame. The terms of the deal were not disclosed but estimating it based on play defensive players around him signed for it was likely in the neighborhood of four years and $2.75 million.
In fairness, he was not a quick starter in his career. He didn't become a starter until year three and in his fourth year, Porcher was asked to move inside from the end and he was not happy about it. He agreed to it because he thought it would help the team but it left him "confused" and the team was not any better as a result of the change.
In 1996 he went back to left end came into the season at 285 pounds with a reduction of body fat and was in the "best shape of his career". He signed a one-year "prove-it" contract and his career took off— he prepared for games in a more organized way and took his game to a higher level than he had in his first few years, roughly doubling his production.
That 1995 season had ten sacks and four forced fumbles and it was, at that point, a career year. So rather than letting Porcher go the Lions signed him to a three-year $9 million contract. Under that contract, he averaged 13 sacks a year and was a Pro Bowler or Pro Bowl alternate all three seasons. He certainly gave them their money's worth.
In 1997 Len Pasquarelli a columnist for Atlanta Journal-Constitution wisely pick him for his personal All-Pro team likely noticing Porcher's strong performance in pass rushing but also versus the run since Porcher had 13.5 stuffs (tackles for loss other than sack). Clearly, he was a top 5-8 defensive end in the NFL.
Porcher held out in 2000 since the Lions made him their franchise player but in late August he finally came into camp after signing a four-year $25 million deal—essentially making Porcher a Lion for life. He was, however approaching the end. His 2000 and 2001 seasons were good but his productivity dropped in his final two seasons.
He just ran out of gas.
Porcher played for 13 seasons and played in 187 games which at the time of his retirement was the third-highest total in Lions history and as we mentioned he was selected to three Pro Bowls and named All-NFC those same seasons and was an alternate in 1998.
Between 1996-2001, Porcher recorded 68 sacks, the second-highest total in the NFL during that span and that was playing the left end position in an era where run-stopping still mattered.
Porcher was one of those players that were out of their era. In our view, he'd have been an ideal 3-4 end in the 1980s or late 2000s. In the 1990s, his prime, 80-90% of NFL teams (depending on the year in the 90s) were playing 4-3 defense. And while, as we are now posting, Porcher was excellent, his skill set would have even been better in a 30 front and then playing either inside or outside in nickel defenses—a quasi Howie Long-type role. It is hard to think of someone who might have done that kind of thing better than Porcher. We think that because of his strength and technique and stamina.
If Porcher played today we'd roughly equate him to Cameron Jordan except Jordan was a 4.7 forty guy. A 1980s comparison might be someone like Ray Childress, except again, Childress had more straight-line speed however we think Porcher would be every bit as effective now as he was in the late-1990s.
However, he played when he played and he did an excellent job without having "top-end" speed and in a league obsessed with speed at almost every position, Porcher was quite remarkable in his accomplishments.