The Detroit Lions are one of those teams that haven’t had much success in a very long time, but still have a very loyal fanbase. Though the lows have certainly been more common and extreme than the highs, there always seems to be a glimmer of hope that pops up once in awhile to keep fans guessing. Since 2000, the Lions have had just four winning seasons and three playoff appearances that have all resulted in a wild card round loss.
Of course, much of the millennium thus far has been marred by the Matt Millen era, which sent Lions fans into jubilation when it ended. Millen selected some really bad players for the most part, though there have been a few bright spots. We now look back at some of those players that made up the best of times and the worst of times since 2000.
There are some names that were left off of the list that include Ernie Sims, Darius Slay, DeAndre Levy and David Kircus. You’ll see that the Lions have had some varied success when it comes to the wide receiver and quarterback positions more than any others. Here are the eight best and seven worst Detroit Lions players since 2000.
15 Best - Ezekiel Ansah
For better or worse, there are only two active Detroit Lions on the list, and the first is standout linebacker Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah. Some thought that the Lions had reached for Ansah in the 2013 NFL Draft using the fifth overall selection on the BYU pass rusher, but he has turned out to be a good one. Ansah got off to a solid start with eight sacks and two forced fumbles in his rookie season.
Though Ansah struggled in 2016, he has proven to be a dominant force when at his healthiest. In 2015, he had the best season of his career when he was named an All-Pro on the heels of a season that included 14.5 sacks and four forced fumbles. Ansah figures to have a much better 2017 and should be able to climb this list.
14 Worst - Joey Harrington
When most people think about the worst player in Detroit Lions history, the first name that comes to mind is usually Joey Harrington. That’s not really fair, as Harrington was not quite as bad as people remember. Sure, his stats weren’t great, but the supporting cast around him was certainly nothing special as he bridged the gap between the Barry Sanders and Calvin Johnson eras.
Harrington had been the third overall pick out of Oregon in 2002, and immediately became a starter. In four seasons, Harrington finished with an 18-37 record as the Lions starter with 10,242 yards, 60 touchdowns and 62 interceptions. Not ideal, but he isn’t even the worst quarterback in the league, and he always carried a positive attitude that earned him the nickname “Joey Blue Skies”.
13 Best - Shaun Rogers
Shaun Rogers is one of those names that you tend to forget until it’s brought up in conversation and makes you say “Oh, yeah.” Rogers was a second round pick for the Lions in 2001 out of Texas and was a space eating nose tackle for more than a decade in the NFL. He would play for Cleveland, New Orleans and New York (Giants) during his career, but his best seasons came in Detroit.
In his seven years in Detroit, Rogers was named to a pair of Pro Bowl rosters. He would collect 29 sacks from a position that usually doesn’t get many. Rogers also collected 250 solo tackles and was able to pounce on nine fumbles while having a memorable interception for a touchdown against Denver.
12 Worst - Dan Orlovsky
While the expectations certainly weren’t as high for Dan Orlovsky as they were for Joey Harrington, we have to say that Orlovsky was the worse of the two. Orlovsky was a fifth rounder from UConn in 2005, getting limited playing time for his first few seasons. Orlovsky finally became a starter in 2008, when the Lions were en route to their disastrously historic 0-16 season.
Orlovsky started seven games that season (losing all of them, obviously). He would finish with 1,616 passing yards and eight touchdowns with eight interceptions. However, the most memorable thing that happened was when Orlovsky rolled out so deep that he stepped out of his own end zone to get the Vikings two points. Somehow, that’s only the second biggest knuckleheaded play that has happened in a Vikings game.
11 Best - Dre’ Bly
Just like Shaun Rogers, Dre’ Bly is one of those names that you knew during the early 2000s, but then sort of forgot about. Bly started his career in 1999 with the Rams and was part of the overlooked solid defense that was on the same roster as “The Greatest Show on Turf.” At cornerback, Bly had four solid seasons in St. Louis before joining the Lions prior to the 2003 season.
Bly spent another four seasons of his career in Detroit, where he collected 19 interceptions (two for touchdowns) and 65 passes defended. In 2003 and 2004, Bly was named to the Pro Bowl and was one of the rare bright spots on defense during the early part of the decade. Bly ended up in Denver and San Francisco before retiring after the 2009 season.
10 Worst - Daniel Bullocks
While Dre’ Bly was the best cornerback on our list, the award for worst one goes to Daniel Bullocks. After Bly departed the Lions following the 2006 season, the Lions were looking for his replacement. They decided that in the second round of the NFL Draft that they would take Bullocks out of Nebraska at 40th overall. Bullocks played in just two non-consecutive seasons, making 31 appearances in 22 starts.
Despite a healthy amount of playing time, Bullocks would not haul in a single interception, and added one sack. Bullocks was in and out of the lineup with injuries and inconsistent play, and he would finish after the 2009 season. Now, Bullocks has been getting into coaching and is on the 49ers staff as an assistant defensive backs coach.
9 Best - Jeff Backus
2001 was the first year that Matt Millen served as the General Manager of the Lions. All things considered, he got off to a good start in the drafting game when he selected Jeff Backus out of Michigan with the 18th overall pick that year. Backus would become a mainstay at left tackle for more than a decade, playing in 191 out of a possible 192 games. That’s quite impressive at a position that normally sees a lot of injuries.
While Backus was never really considered to be an elite tackle in the NFL, his longevity has to at least count for something. Backus likely won’t be headed to the Hall of Fame, but he deserves some sort of honor for sticking around on some really bad Lions teams throughout the 2000s.
8 Worst - Alex Henery
The second former Nebraska Cornhusker on our ‘worst’ list, Alex Henery had a very short-lived career as a Detroit Lion. Henery started his career in Philadelphia where he connected on 74 of his 86 field goal attempts. Desperate for a kicker after Nate Freese proved not to be a good replacement for Jason Hanson, the Lions signed Henery hoping that he could be the cure for their kicking woes.
Instead, Henery would last just two games as a Lion. In five field goal attempts, Henery would only make one (though it was from over 50 yards). Henery’s exit came one day after missing three field goals in 2014 against Buffalo, though making just one of them would have given the Lions a victory. Henery has not played in the NFL since.
7 Best - Jason Hanson
Speaking of Jason Hanson, there is little doubt that he is one of the best kickers in NFL history, as well as a beloved figure among Lions fans. For someone to be drafted all the way back in 1992 and still make the top four for best players on a franchise that only takes 2000 and beyond into consideration is something special. Hanson’s career lasted all the way through the 2012 season, a season in which he connected on 32 of 36 field goal attempts.
Hanson hardly ever missed a game outside of an injury plagued 2010 season, and he seemed to get more accurate as time went on. The Lions have been struggling to find a mainstay at kicker ever since, and many have asked Hanson to return. Ford Field is still one of the few places you can find kickers jerseys in the stands.
6 Worst - Jordon Dizon
After the Lions had a decent 2007 season, not many were expecting them to go winless the next year. Their woes in 2008 started with the NFL Draft, when they drafted the mediocre Gosder Cherilus in the first round, and then linebacker Jordon Dizon in the second. Dizon had been an All-American the year before, but did not crack the starting lineup in his two seasons with Detroit.
Over 28 appearances, Dizon collected just 24 tackles, one sack and one forced fumble. Before he could even show improvement, Dizon tore two tendons and missed the 2010 NFL season. Before 2011 could even start, it was clear that Dizon was not going to ever meet his potential, and he was released. He has not played for another team since then.
5 Best - Ndamukong Suh
The 2010 NFL Draft ended up being a really good one, with Sam Bradford actually being perhaps the weakest player drafted in the top seven. The second overall pick went to the Lions, and they didn’t waste it by drafting defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, another Cornhusker on our list. Suh played for five seasons in Detroit, making four Pro Bowl appearances and three All-Pro teams.
Suh was a menace for offensive lines and quarterbacks, as he collected 36 sacks and an amazing 15 passes defended in Detroit. While he has been a controversial figure, there’s no doubt he was among the elite at his position (but not at kicker). Suh would depart from Detroit after the 2014 season to join Miami, but Lions fans were mostly appreciative for his time.
4 Worst - Mike Williams
There was a time when the Lions went on a tear of drafting wide receivers in the early parts of the NFL Draft. There are three of those receivers that remain on our list, starting with Mike Williams. Williams was the 10th overall pick in 2005 out of USC, and many thought he was going to be a sure thing. Instead, he struggled mightily in his rookie season and it only got worse.
Williams started 22 games in two seasons with Detroit, collecting just 37 receptions for 449 yards and two touchdowns. Those 37 catches came on 75 targets, which you can probably guess is not a very good ratio. Williams was let go after the 2006 season and spent the next year with Tennessee and Oakland. It looked like his career was over, but he signed with Seattle in 2010 and had 751 yards. Go figure.
3 Best - Matthew Stafford
It’s hard to believe that there are still plenty of Lions fans out there that don’t think Matthew Stafford is the answer and needs to be replaced. The other fans, who know what they are talking about, think Stafford is a great quarterback. The former first overall pick by Detroit in 2009 is the only franchise quarterback that the Lions have had in the past half century, starting 109 games since being drafted.
Stafford’s record hasn’t been great at 51-58, but that is weight down by his first two seasons at 3-10 when he was developing. Stafford has tossed for 30,303 yards with 187 touchdowns and 108 interceptions so far in his career. He has only seemed to get better, and is still not even 30 years old if you can believe that. Leading a deep playoff run could get Stafford to number one someday.
2 Worst - Charles Rogers
The second wide receiver in our logjam comes in the form of Charles Rogers. Since there are many Lions fans that also root for Michigan State, there was a lot of excitement about Rogers heading into the NFL. The Lions took him second overall in 2003, just after Carson Palmer, hoping that he would be the next big thing. After three seasons, though, he turned out to be a massive bust.
Rogers played in just 15 games over those three seasons, collecting 440 yards and four touchdowns. Rogers failed drug test after drug test and did not seem to care about his NFL career. The Lions released him after the 2005 season for his poor play and leadership. He tried out for other teams, but he had lost most of his speed and wasn’t worth picking up. The worst part? The Lions could have had Andre Johnson, who was the next pick in the draft.
1 Best - Calvin Johnson
Barry Sanders is the best player in Lions history, and when he retired early, Lions fans tried to get him to come back for years. Now, Calvin Johnson is in the same boat as the best receiver in Lions history. Johnson was drafted second overall in 2007, and didn’t disappoint like Rogers did in the same draft slot four years prior. Quite the opposite, really, as Johnson had nine seasons in Detroit with six Pro Bowls and three All-Pro selections.
Johnson totalled 11,619 receiving yards and 83 touchdowns during that span. Johnson’s best year came in 2012 when he collected a record 1,964 yards, even though he had just five touchdowns. Johnson will likely head to the Hall of Fame someday despite a short career, as he was always elite, and his number will 81 will certainly be honored at Ford Field one day.