Earlier this week on ESPN's NFL Insiders, there was a segment where an analyst picked a "face of the franchise" and "unsung hero" for certain teams. The Detroit Lions were not one of the teams featured in the segment that I saw, but I figured this could be an interesting topic to discuss.
More specifically, the unsung hero aspect of that segment seems interesting to apply to the Lions. For the face of the franchise, Calvin Johnson is pretty clearly the pick, but you could go in a number of different directions for the unsung hero category.
After really thinking about what it means to be an unsung hero -- it's defined as "a person who makes a substantive yet unrecognized contribution" -- I opted to go with cornerback Rashean Mathis. He has certainly received some recognition locally for his efforts at cornerback the last two years, but I think he's one of the more overlooked players at the position. Last year, for example, he was ranked 12th in the NFL at cornerback on Pro Football Focus, but you don't tend to hear him mentioned at all when the game's top cornerbacks are discussed.
Going beyond his contributions on the field, we also shouldn't overlook Mathis' impact off the field. He has served as a mentor to Darius Slay and the Lions' other corners, and that's something he takes great pride in. A lot of players would probably prefer to focus strictly on keeping their spot in the lineup, especially as a 34-year-old, but Mathis is helping the Lions get better in the present, and he's helping them build for the future as well.
Who do you think is the Lions' unsung hero?