Barry Sanders, Calvin Johnson, Matthew Stafford, and Ndamukong Suh often gain recognition as some of the greatest players to suit up for the Detroit Lions. And rightfully so. Many regard Sanders and Johnson as two of the best ever at their positions. Suh was just a freak of nature in his prime. Then there’s Stafford, who without a doubt, is the best quarterback in Lions’ history.
What about the unsung heroes, though?
You know, the ones that don’t get the shine the players mentioned above receive? I posed this question on Twitter several days ago. And there was a ton of feedback. Hell, it even sent the Woodward Sports office into a small frenzy.
After conducting research, I have outlined six players, in no order, whom I feel are the most underrated in Detroit Lions history. In naming these players, I considered several things such as length of time with the Detroit Lions, their achievements, their statistics, and opinions, of course. Let’s dive in!
Doug English, Defensive Tackle
Doug English played his entire NFL career with the Detroit Lions (1975-85). He’s in the College Football Hall of Fame, stemming from his time at Texas. He’s also on the Detroit Lions All-Time Team. Yet, he’s a name many don’t hear much about, in this generation anyway. English was a beast. He was a huge part of the Lions’ “Silver Rush” defensive line that terrorized the NFL in the 1970s and 80s.
While in Detroit, English earned All-Pro Honors in 1982 and four Pro Bowl selections between 1978 and 1983. His best season was in 1983, when he recorded 13 sacks. Additionally, he’s tied for first place in NFL history with registering the most safeties (4).
Brett Perriman, Wide Receiver
When the Detroit Lions signed Breshad Perriman last season, they hoped he was a chip off the old block. Because his father, Brett, was one of the best No. 2 wide receivers to don the Honolulu Blue & Silver.
Perriman never earned Pro Bowl or All Pro honors during his time playing for the Lions. Part of the reason could’ve been because he played alongside Herman Moore. Despite that, he was vital to the Lions’ offense in the 90s. He reached the peak of his career during his final two years in Detroit, posting back-to-back seasons with over 1,000 receiving yards and at least five touchdowns. Playing six seasons in Detroit, he totaled 428 receptions for 5,244 yards and 25 touchdowns. That averaged out to roughly 874 receiving yards per season. While Perriman played for the Saints, Chiefs, and Dolphins, the best stretch of his career was with the Lions.
The 1995 season showcased Perriman at his peak. And it was pretty nasty. He had 108 receptions for 1,488 yards and nine touchdowns. He also had eight games with over 100 receiving yards. Along with that, Perriman had the best game of his career that season. In a Week 12, 44-38 victory over the Minnesota Vikings, he caught 12 passes for 153 yards, and two touchdowns.
Additionally, the Lions were undefeated (5-0) when Perriman had over 115 receiving yards. He was sixth in the NFL that season in receptions and receiving yards. He had a season worthy of Pro Bowl Honors alongside his teammate Moore, who did make it. Unfortunately, some guys named Jerry Rice and Michael Irvin edged him out.
Mel Gray, Return Specialist
Before Deion Sanders, Dante Hall, or Devin Hester, one kick/punt return specialist that terrorized the NFL. And that man is none other than Mel Gray. Check the tape. During his time with the Detroit Lions, he was one of the most dominant kick/punt returners of the 1990s. He was so dominant that he made the NFL 1990s All-Decade team as both. Gray was a four-time Pro Bowler and earned four All-Pro Honors during his stretch with the Lions. He played in 84 games and returned 216 kickoffs for 5,478 yards (25.4 avg) and registered five touchdowns. And he returned 132 punts for 1,427 yards (10.8 avg) and had two touchdowns. Just like his teammate, Barry Sanders, Gray could stop on a dime, make a quick cut and evade defenders. Once he broke free from the defenders, it was “house music.” He was finding the endzone.
Like Brett Perriman, his last season in Detroit was the most dominant of his career. He returned 45 kicks for 1,276 yards, and three touchdowns. One of those included a 102-yard return for a score. He averaged 28.4 yards per return.
Robert Porcher, Defensive End
It’s about time Robert Porcher got his flowers.
His time with the Detroit Lions is severely underrated. Porcher was a three-time Pro Bowler and All-Pro (97, 99, and 01), and was an essential piece to the Lions’ defensive unit during his time in Detroit, where he played his entire career. During his career, Porcher totaled 603 tackles, 19 pass deflections, 18 forced fumbles, and one interception.
However, the most glaring stat that stands above all of them are the 95.5 sacks Porcher had tallied in his career. That’s more than Richard Seymour and Howie Long, both of whom are in the Hall of Fame. While Porcher is on the Lions’ All-Time team, he’s a name that people should speak of with more reverence.
Stephen Boyd, Linebacker
Stephen Boyd doesn’t get enough credit for his time with the Detroit Lions. After Chris Spielman bolted the Lions for the Buffalo Bills, Boyd had very big shoes to fill. And it’s safe to say he did an admirable job. He had four straight seasons (1997-2000) with over 100 combined tackles. Additionally, he earned two Pro Bowl nods (1999 and 2000) and one All-Pro Honor (2000).
In 2000, he had 140 tackles (77 solo), one forced fumble (one recovered), eight pass deflections (tied for second-most by a middle linebacker), and one interception.
Not to forget, in 1999, Boyd also made the All-Madden team, an honor that some players appreciate just as much, if not more, than Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors. Unfortunately, Boyd’s career was cut short due to severe back issues, forcing him to retire in 2002.
Glover Quin, Safety
Glover Quin is still a fan favorite in Detroit. If a reader were to converse with a Detroit Lions fan, you’d be hard-pressed to hear a bad word about it. Why? Because he played his tail off. Quin was a leader. He was also reliable. And most importantly, he was available. Quin played and started all 96 games during his time with the Lions. During those six seasons, he intercepted 19 passes (two pick-sixes), 37 pass deflections, and 7 forced fumbles (recovering two).
In 2014, he led the league in interceptions (7) and earned his only All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors. Quin was as vital to the Lions’ defense that season as Ndamukong Suh.
Unfortunately for Quin, the Quinntricia era got him out of town after the 2018 season. The Lions released him in February 2019. He retired from the NFL in July of the same year. While he didn’t have a happy ending with his exile in Detroit, fans still hold him in high regard. His release didn’t go over well with the fanbase.
Follow Kory Woods on Twitter at KoryEWoods.