Early last month, the NFL, in conjunction with the Pro Football Hall of Fame, announced its all-decade team. Two Detroit Lions made that list and it got us to thinking, maybe we should put together an all-decade team for the Lions.
It wasn't a great decade for the Lions, but it was certainly better than the previous one, which included no playoff berths and the league's first 0-16 season. In the past 10 years, the team qualified for the postseason three times after a 12-year drought, but proved unable to score an elusive division title or postseason victory.
Here are our picks for the best players at each position.
► Quarterback: Matthew Stafford
Stafford started 139 of 160 possible games for the Lions this past decade, setting just about every meaningful passing record in franchise history along the way. Yards, touchdowns, completion percentage, passer rating, it’s Stafford, Stafford, Stafford, Stafford. Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the only thing missing from the resume is team success.
► Running back: Joique Bell
This selection is a damning indictment of Detroit’s ground game the past decade. Bell gave the Lions a couple of nice seasons. Plus, he was a heck of a story as a local kid who used to work security for the team while attending college at Wayne State. But no one should feel good about the fact Bell had 932 more rushing yards than any other Lions back the past 10 years. He also added another 1,638 yards in the passing game, scoring 23 total touchdowns in 63 games for the franchise.
► Wide receiver: Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate, Marvin Jones
Johnson, the future Hall of Famer, is a no-brainer, obliterating Herman Moore’s franchise marks for receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns. Johnson also set the NFL’s single-season yardage mark, which still stands seven years later.
Tate ended up being the long-sought-after Robin to Johnson’s Batman. The former Notre Dame standout came over as a free agent from Seattle in 2014 and proceeded to catch 90 or more passes four straight seasons. He was on pace to do it again in 2017, before he was unceremoniously traded to the Philadelphia Eagles at the trade deadline.
Jones edges out Nate Burleson and the hard-charging Kenny Golladay for the final spot. Signed in the wake of Johnson’s retirement, Jones helped fill the void admirably with 213 catches for 3,318 yards and 27 touchdowns in four seasons. The only downside is he’s missed 11 games during that stretch.
► Flex: Theo Riddick
Never particularly productive as a ball carrier, Riddick developed from one of Detroit’s top special teams performers as a rookie into one of the league’s premier pass-catchers out of the backfield. His 80 receptions in 2015 are the best by a running back in team history. More impressively, he did that while being targeted just 99 times. Starting that season and for the next three, he averaged 62 grabs and was one of the toughest players in the league to tackle in the open field.
► Tight end: Brandon Pettigrew, Eric Ebron
A pair of former first-rounders who battled drops and left fans wanting more, Pettigrew had some big seasons as a pass catcher, hauling in a franchise-best 83 balls during Stafford’s 5,000-yard season in 2011. Only Charlie Sanders has more career receptions at the position.
Ebron, who the Lions selected in front of multiple future Pro Bowlers in 2014, including all-world defensive tackle Aaron Donald, didn’t play his best football until after he left Detroit. Still, in four seasons with the Lions, he had his moments, averaging better than 500 receiving yards.
► Offensive tackle: Taylor Decker, Riley Reiff
Longevity is the story here. No two tackles started more games for the Lions in the past decade than Decker and Reiff.
Reiff, selected 23rd overall in 2012, moved into the starting lineup during his second season, replacing Jeff Backus. Four year later, it was Decker replacing Reiff, displacing him to the right side for one season before he bolted to Minnesota in free agency.
Neither player was selected to a Pro Bowl, but they were both above-average starters at their position for multiple years.
► Guard: Rob Sims, Graham Glasgow
Sims didn’t miss a game his final five seasons, and even though he wasn’t at his best at the end of his career, he was still a key piece up front for some of the most prolific passing offenses the NFL had ever seen.
Glasgow narrowly edges out Larry Warford. Both spent four years with the Lions, but Glasgow was a bit more consistent when focusing strictly on their time in Detroit, while also offering the flexibility to play center.
Interestingly, the Lions opted not to re-sign either player to a second contract. Warford has gone on to make the Pro Bowl each of the past three seasons in New Orleans. It will be a tough pill to swallow if Glasgow finds similar success in Denver.
► Center: Dominic Raiola
While Frank Ragnow is on a trajectory to be a better player than Raiola ever was, one season of stellar play isn’t enough to unseat Raiola, who missed just one game, due to suspension, his final five years. Never a fan favorite due to some of his on- and off-field antics, he did finish his career on a high note and should have earned a Pro Bowl invitation for the 2014 season.
► Defensive end: Ziggy Ansah, Cliff Avril
Ansah’s star burned brightly for three years before dimming out just as quickly. A first-round pick in 2013, he put together a pair of solid seasons to start his career before tallying 14.5 sacks in 2015. That earned him a Pro Bowl selection.
But the injury bug bit hard. A high ankle sprain hampered him throughout 2016, his double-digit sack total in 2017 was inflated by a meaningless late-season surge and shoulder issues limited him to seven games and four sacks in his 2018 swan song.
Avril, meanwhile, flourished at the start of the decade, recording 29 sacks from 2010-12. He parlayed that into a big free-agent deal from the Seahawks, where he played the next played the next five years, earning a Pro Bowl selection and a Super Bowl ring before a serious neck injury forced an early retirement.
► Defensive tackle: Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley
Controversy followed Suh at every turn, but the No. 2 pick in the 2010 draft was as dominant as advertised coming out of Nebraska. Although he never bested the 10 sacks he posted as a rookie, he developed into a more all-around player during his time in Detroit, earning four All-Pro selections in five seasons.
Fairley, who fell to the Lions in the first round a year after the team drafted Suh, didn’t share his teammate's work ethic. Despite having as much talent as any interior lineman in the league at the time, he battled weight and durability issues. He still managed to rack up 11.5 sacks from 2012-13, but it always will be a case of what could have been with the big man out of Auburn.
► Linebacker: Stephen Tulloch, DeAndre Levy, Tahir Whitehead
Levy was on the cusp of superstardom when his career was derailed by a preseason hip injury in 2015. Prior to that, he had established a reputation as one of the league’s most-versatile off-ball linebackers. In 2013, he finished second in the NFL with six interceptions. He followed that up with 151 tackles in 2014, including a league-high 117 solo stops. Sadly, he only played six more games before he was forced to hang it up at 29 years old.
Tulloch, Levy’s running mate from 2011-15, started 67 games in five seasons. A true quarterback of the defense and rock solid against the run, he topped 100 tackles four times in Detroit.
Finally, Whitehead gets the nod as the third linebacker. A special teams ace his first two seasons, he got his break when Tulloch tore his ACL in 2014. Whitehead started 15 games that year and proved up for the challenge with 86 tackles and five pass breakups. A career overachiever, he started three more seasons for the Lions, recording more than 110 tackles in each of the final two.
Not a fit for coach Matt Patricia’s scheme, the team let Whitehead walk in free agency after the 2017 season.
► Cornerback: Darius Slay, Chris Houston
Slay is one of the more obvious choices on the list. After a rough rookie season, he put together a stellar six-year stretch, living up to his Big Play nickname. Routinely shadowing the opposition’s top option, Slay racked up 19 interceptions and 99 pass defenses since 2014.
Houston, who the Lions picked up in a 2010 trade for a sixth-round draft pick, provided four years of quality production before a foot injury ended his career. From 2010-14, Houston started 54 games, intercepted 10 passes and defended 45.
► Safety: Glover Quin, Louis Delmas
Quin’s career ended with something of a whimper, but the five previous years with Detroit he was arguably one of the most underrated players to ever wear the Honolulu blue. He certainly deserved more national recognition. The cerebral free safety had a nose for the ball, intercepting 19 passes during that five-year stretch, including a lead-leading seven in 2014. Oh, did we mention he didn’t miss a single start in six years?
We weren’t in love of the idea of pairing Quin with Delmas, but who else was worthy of a spot on the all-decade roster? Amari Spievey? James Ihedigbo? Tavon Wilson? It would probably be Tracy Walker with another year of experience, but his current resume doesn’t stack up to Delmas’, who appeared in 50 games for the Lions during the decade, recording four picks, three fumble recoveries and 13 tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
► Defensive back: Quandre Diggs
Diggs had some highs and lows during his time with the Lions. A sixth-round pick in 2015, he performed well as a rookie when forced into action earlier than expected, but took a step back instead of a step forward his second season.
In his third year, he looked like one of the best nickelbacks in the league, then the Lions moved him to safety, where he picked off his first pass. He liked the feeling so much he did it three games in a row. That performance earned him a contract extension, but after another solid year, the Lions didn’t like the way he was performing in 2019 and traded him to Seattle for a fifth-round pick.
► Punter: Sam Martin
Martin was Detroit’s punter and kickoff specialist the final seven seasons of the decade with mostly positive results. His 2016 season was the best in franchise history, with a 44.2-yard net average. He never reached those heights again after suffering an offseason foot injury in 2017. Additionally, fans will never forget his 10-yard shank in the playoffs against Dallas, which set up the Cowboys’ game-winning touchdown.
► Kicker: Matt Prater
After a rocky couple of years following Jason Hanson’s retirement, the Lions were gifted Prater when the Broncos waived him due to off-field issues. The match brought stability for both sides. In six seasons, he’s converted 85.9% of his field-goal attempts, including 32 makes from 50 yards and beyond.
► Long snapper: Don Muhlbach
Muhlbach didn’t miss a game during the decade, earning two trips to the Pro Bowl during that time. In 2016, he easily fended off the only serious contender for his job (sixth-round draft pick Jimmy Landes) and, at this rate, might make Detroit’s next all-decade team.
► Return man: Jamal Agnew
Between Agnew, Stefan Logan and Jeremy Ross, the Lions have had some decent options fielding kicks and punts the past 10 years. But Agnew is the only one from that group to earn All-Pro honors, for his work on punts as a rookie in 2017.
Andre Roberts, who played one season in Detroit, is the only player to average more yards per punt return than Agnew since 2010. And he’s third, behind Ameer Abdullah and Ross, on kickoff average, buoyed by his 100-yard touchdown last season against the Eagles.
► Coach Jim Caldwell
In four seasons at the helm, Caldwell posted the best winning percentage (.563) for a Lions coach in the Super Bowl era. The team finished above .500 three of the four years and managed to climb back to a respectable 7-9 after starting 1-7 in the fourth.
Caldwell's teams routinely got the most out of their talent. The 2014 defense was one of the best in franchise history and the 2016 roster, exuding the coach's even-keel demeanor, set an NFL record with eight fourth-quarter comebacks.
In the end, the Lions typically fell short against top-tier competition under Caldwell, which precipitated a coaching change after the team missed the playoffs in 2017.