The Detroit Lions have had some tough, gritty, and relentless defensive players throughout their long history. These guys led goal-line stances and had legendary sacks and interceptions in their time. These guys also wore the silver and Honolulu blue with pride- it wasn’t just a jersey to them.
It was very tough for me to keep Chris Spielman off of this list but after quite a bit of research, he came in just outside of the top six.
These are your top 5 Detroit Lions defensive players of all time.
#5- Alex Karras
Mr. Hollywood himself, Alex Karras, was a rough-and-tough defensive lineman for the Lions and was also a film star after his football days were over. The 4-time Pro Bowl player and 3-time first-team all-pro was an absolute beast for the Lions in his 12-year career. Karras deserves to be in the Hall of Fame in my opinion, but that is just me. He was the type of player that left it all on the field and was a one-of-a-kind person. It is very sad that Karras is no longer with us, but hopefully, he will be inducted into the Hall of Fame, which would be a huge honor for him and his family.
#4 -Yale Lary
Defensive back Yale Lary was a third-round gem for the Lions. The Hall of Famer appeared in 9 Pro Bowls and was a 3-time first-team all-pro. In the 12 seasons that he played, Lary had 50 career interceptions and was also a pretty solid kick/punt returner for the Lions. He helped the Lions win 3 championships, which is more than pretty much any Detroit Lion player could ever say. Lary was a very prolific defensive back who deserves to be in the top 5.
#3- Dick LeBeau
The man of many interceptions, Dick Lebeau had to make this list. As an original “shutdown cornerback,” LeBeau is the all-time Lions leader in interceptions with 62, which is also the 7th all-time for the entire league. He was also an iron man of sorts, not missing a single game for 10 seasons, and playing in over 140 straight games (the NFL only played 14 games a year back then). LeBeau was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010 and has had success as a defensive coordinator, winning two Super Bowls with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
#2- Lem Barney
It is hard to argue that somebody could have a better rookie year than Lem Barney did in 1967. The defensive back led the league with 10 interceptions in his first year, returning 3 of them for a touchdown, and won defensive rookie of the year. Barney was a stronghold for the Lions on defense, and as a kick/punt returner in the late 60s to mid-70s, many quarterbacks were even afraid to throw in his vicinity. He was also a 7-time Pro Bowl player and twice a first-team all-pro, along with being inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1992. Barney was a defensive legend that won’t be forgotten for his play on the field.
#1- Joe Schmidt
After taking a long, hard look at Joe Schmidt’s career with the Lions, it was hard to think of anyone who was better in the silver and Honolulu blue for the Lions on defense. Schmidt’s impressive accomplishments start with him being a 10-time Pro Bowl player and an 8-time first-team all-pro, who was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1973. The accomplishments do not end there, though; Schmidt was the leader of a defense that won two NFL championships in 1953 and 1957. Schmidt was also a master of getting to the ball, tallying 17 fumble recoveries in his 13-year career (8 in 1955 alone). The linebacker was known for his true skills and leadership on defense and was a centerpiece for the Lions in their glory years in the 50s and 60s.
Nation, who do you think should be included on this Detroit Lions list? Do you think Chris Spielman should have made the cut?