In today’s edition of 100 Days, 100 Detroit Lions, we honor the greatest Tight End on franchise history.
15. Charlie Sanders
Tight End. 1968-77 Detroit
“Charlie Deep” is simply the greatest tight end in Lion history. No one has come close, before or since, and it is very likely to remain that way. Those who saw him dominate his position still speak in awe of his play. He could run like a wideout, block like a lineman, and catch like a cold. He played in the days before the NFL’s revolutionary 1978 rules changes, which opened up the passing game as never before. Even so, his 336 career receptions remain number-six on the team’s career list, behind only the 1990’s foursome of Herman Moore, Johnnie Morton, Brett Perriman, and Barry Sanders and curent Lion, Calvin Johnson. His 14.3 yard-per-catch average trails only Leonard Thompson (16.9) and Gail Cogdill (16.1) among the teams’ top-ten pass catchers.
“There was no book on Charlie,” said former Lion teammate and quarterback Greg Landry, “Charlie was strong enough to work against anyone in the secondary . . . he was fast enough that strong safeties had problems covering him in the open field. He was a wonderful target with his size, and an intelligent receiver who knew how to find open spots, or adjust routes to make it easier for me to reach him.” On Charlie’s blocking, Landry added this: “He just crushed the corner when he came off the ball, regardless of whether he was lined up against a defensive lineman or a linebacker. It was like having a third tackle in the game.”
The 6-foot-4, 235 pound Sanders absorbed a tremendous amount of punishment during his career. As the Lions’ top receiving threat, he was constantly doubled, sometimes triple-teamed. With the free-for-all pass defense pre-1978, he was often the target of extra-curricular abuse from opposing defenders. “In one sense the coverage makes me feel good,” Sanders said during his playing days, “but in another sense it makes me mad. Why don’t they leave me alone like any other tight end?” Despite the extra abuse, as well as major knee and shoulder injuries, he only missed nine regular-season games during his career.
Sanders was a seven-time Pro Bowl selection and a two-time All-Pro during his ten seasons with the Lions. In 2007, “Charlie Deep” was finally enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.