Detroit Lions All-Time Defense

A couple weeks ago, I went over who I think the greatest Detroit Lion is at every offensive position. Today, we will cover the defensive side of the ball. I am going to build this defense in a base 4-3 due to the current iteration of the Lions being in this formation.

I have a soft spot in my heart for Ndamukong Suh. Not only does he have one of the best names in sports history, but he was an absolute monster for the Lions. Although he is most known for his dirty play with Detroit, his 5 seasons in Detroit were truly dominant. He made 4 pro bowls and 3 all pro teams in his tenure, recording 36 sacks and 66 TFL in his Lions career. That’s not to mention how much space he took up in the run game, which doesn’t always translate to tackles, but is very important when it comes to defending the run.

A lot of defensive stats were not available during the time which Roger Brown played, but the ones that are tell us how much of a beast he really was. He had 63.5 sacks in a 7 year Lions tenure as a defensive tackle in the 60s. Brown is one of those athletes that would thrive in the modern day NFL, as he was a freak athlete that transcended his era.

Al Baker’s first 3 years in the league can be described as a supernatural span of athletic performance. In 1978, he recorded 23 sacks, which remains to this day the single season sack record. However, due to official records only being dated back to 1982, Baker is robbed from his true title as single season sack king. Not to mention the fact that he was a rookie. Unfortunately, Baker was slowed down by injury later in his career, so his rookie season ended up being his statistical peak.

The all time sack leader for the Lions doesn’t get nearly enough love. Not only was he a consistently elite pass rusher, but he stayed loyal to Detroit for his entire career. He was a 3 time pro bowler, and his 95.5 sacks in his career are the most from anyone in a Lions uniform by a wide margin.

Joe Schmidt was a pivotal part in the distant dynasty that was the Detroit Lions in the 1950s. While defensive stats from the era are limited, the accolades speak for themselves. Schmidt made 6 straight first team all pros, and racked up 10 all pro selections in total. He was 4th in MVP voting in 1957, which was one of the 2 seasons in which he won an NFL championship.

DeAndre Levy, like many other Lions players, gets lost in history due to playing on horrible teams for his entire career. But he was an extremely underrated linebacker in his time. Unlike Schmidt, Levy has nearly 0 accolades that recognize his high level of play. But taking a look at the stat sheet and the film will tell you that this was a player who deserved to be regarded as an elite LB when he played. He had 50 TFL across his career, and led the league in tackles in 2014.

Chris Spielman is the all-time tackle leader for the Detroit Lions. The gap between him and second place is a whopping 300 tackles. If you were to watch all 1168 tackles he made in a Detroit uniform, you would notice how ferociously he hit ball carriers. But he wasn’t just a bruiser. He had amazing awareness that made teams scheme plays away from his side of the field.

Dick LeBau is known best for his extensive coaching career, but he was also a ball hawking cornerback for the Lions in their glory days. He is the all time career INT leader for the Detroit Lions and recorded 5 or more interceptions in the majority of his seasons, which is impressive considering the era of offense that he played in.

He might have been with the Lions well past his prime, but Night Train Lane was still a force to be reckoned with in the secondary through his 30s. He recorded 21 picks in his 5 seasons with the Lions, which, similar to Lebau, is impressive considering the heavy run style of his era.

If you’re noticing that most of these players played before color television was invented, I did not want it to be this way. This is more of a reflection of how little talent the Lions have had on defense in recent memory. Don’t get me wrong, Christiansean was a baller, but I’m sick of watching highlights from the Eisenhower administration. Christiansean led the league in picks twice in his accomplished career, and made 7 straight all pro first teams.

Bennie Blades was as menacing as his name sounds. He is only behind Chris Spielman for career tackles as a Lion. While not known for his ball production, Blades was the hardest hitting safety of his era. Pairing him with Jack Christiansean would make a wonderful lightning and thunder combination in the back end.
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