97. James Jones
Running Back. 1983-88 Detroit; 1989-92 Seattle Seahawks
The successful Detroit career of fullback James Jones is often forgotten by many Lion fans. That’s because a large portion of that career came sandwiched between the two best running backs in franchise history, Billy Sims and Barry Sanders. Nevertheless, while a part of some of the most underachieving teams in franchise history, Jones established himself as a versatile workhorse worthy of a place among the best players who have ever worn the Lion uniform.
Jones came to the Lions as an unlikely number-one draft choice in 1983 out of the University of Florida. The Lions, like 26 other teams that year, had chosen to pass over a Hall-of-Fame-bound quarterback from the University of Pittsburgh named Dan Marino. While many Lion fans still wonder from time to time what life might have been like with Marino at the Lions’ offensive controls, no hard feelings should be directed toward Jones. Because while James Jones never became a Hall of Famer, he would certainly make his mark on the Lion record book when all was said and done.
Jones currently ranks sixth in Lions’ history for career rushing yardage (3,452), fifth in attempts (960), seventh in rushing touchdowns (23), and eighth in total touchdowns (33). On two occasions, he carried the ball 36 times in a single game, which ties him with Billy Sims for third place all-time in that category. In Lion receiving annals, James ranks eighth in career receptions with 285, with 10 of those spirals going for scores. In addition, his 77 receptions in 1984 are the highest single-season total ever for a Detroit running back.
Jones once caught 12 passes in a single-game against the Browns in 1986, and ran for three scores against the Packers in 1983, with both efforts being the second highest single-game totals in franchise history. He led the team in receptions three times (1983-84, ‘86), and rushing three-straight times (1985-87). James is the only player other than Barry Sanders to win the Bobby Layne Offensive MVP award three-straight years, doing so from 1984 through 1986.
The arrival of Barry Sanders and the Run-and-Shoot offense in 1989 would result in James moving to the Pacific Northwest, where he would play for the Seahawks through the 1992 season.