Ranking the greatest Detroit Lions of all time is no easy task to accomplish. From No. 1 all the way up to No. 99, I will attempt to rank the greatest Lions players for each jersey number. This list continues with my selection for the best at No. 23.
A second-round draft pick by the New Orleans Saints in the 1984 USFL Supplemental Draft, Mel Gray, the return specialist, is known mostly for his days with the Lions in the early 1990’s. Gray was the league’s most feared special teams returner in six seasons for the Lions, returning five kickoffs for touchdowns and two punts for touchdowns.
In addition to Gray’s ability to score on any given return, he gave the Lions tremendous field position in every game that he played in Detroit with his elite speed and opposing teams fearful of kicking to him. Gray averaged just over 25 yards per kick return and 10 yards return as a punt returner for the Lions.
Many of Gray’s records as a Lion include being the franchise’s all-time leader in career kickoff returns (216), career kickoff return yards (5,478), career kickoff returns for touchdowns (5), most kickoff returns for touchdowns in a season (3, 1994), highest kickoff return average in a season (28.36, 1994), and career punt return yards (1,427), records that no Lions special teamer has come close to matching. Gray also became a four-time Pro Bowler in Detroit and a three-time all-pro selection.
As far as his other on-field exploits, Gray barely saw any action as a wide receiver during the Lions’ glory years in the early to mid-1990’s. After joining Detroit, he would leave for what are now the Tennessee Titans in 1995, and then joining the Philadelphia Eagles in 1997. One thing is for certain though, Gray is, was and always will be Detroit’s best return man of all time, if not one of the best ever in all of pro football.
Other nominees: Chris Houston (2010-present), Terry Fair (1998-2001)
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