Michigan resident: Ranking the top five best players in Detroit Lions history

The Detroit Lions are known as the NFL's laughingstock from their modern-day struggles, but the franchise was actually one of the NFL's best during the 1950s and has a large group of Hall of Famers to their credit.

From hard-hitting defensive backs to superstar running backs, the Lions have had some special players over the years.

Here are the top five best players in Detroit Lions history:

5. Mel Gray

The kick returner Gray starred during the 1990s and just about revolutionized the position. He along with kicker Eddie Murray (and current Lions kicker Jason Hanson(notes)) helped start a tradition of great special teams play even as the Lions struggled with inconsistencies.

While other players at more demanding positions deserve spots here as well, Gray gets the nod because he was the best in the league at his position and a true weapon who set numerous records.

4. Dick "Night Train" Lane

Perhaps the hardest-hitting defensive back until Ronnie Lott hit the scene, Lane was a seven-time Pro Bowler and is a Hall of Famer who gave the Lions a fearsome pass defense in the 1960s.

3. Joe Schmidt

Another Hall of Famer, the linebacker Schmidt was both a player and coach for the Lions and one of the toughest players to play during his era in the '50s and '60s.

He is a ten-time Pro Bowler and was always a great ambassador for the way the Lions played the game during their best years.

2. Bobby Layne

Any quarterback who leads the Lions to the playoffs deserves extra credit, but Layne helped lead the Lions to three championships in the 50's and made it to five Pro Bowls. The Lions haven't had a true high-quality quarterback of his level since which has helped lead to their failures.

1. Barry Sanders

This a no-brainer. Sanders was the most electrifying weapon the NFL had seen in years and would have easily been the NFL's all-time rusher if he hadn't retired early in July of 1999.

He was the most exciting runner to ever play in many fans' minds and if he had a better offensive line he might have broken the rushing record before he had retired and made it to a Super Bowl or two of his own.

Not only was Sanders amazing but he also had to follow Billy Sims, another player who makes a strong argument for being on the list of the top five Detroit Lions players in franchise history.

Source: http://www.detroitlions.com/team/history.html

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Updated Wednesday, Dec 15, 2010