Detroit has its’ share of sports stars right now. The Tigers have the reigning Cy Young and MVP (Justin Verlander), Home Run Derby champ (Prince Fielder) and perhaps the best hitter in the game in Miguel Cabrera. Despite losing All-Time great Niklas Lidstrom to retirement, the Red Wings still have some of hockey’s most skilled and respected forwards in Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. The Lions have the Madden coverboy in Calvin Johnson and the NFL’s bad boy in Ndamukong Suh and the Pistons have — well — we love the Pistons.
Beyond the highly recognized superstars above, the city has a second crop of All-Pros that for whatever reason don’t get the attention that their peers in their own sport and fellow Detroit Athletes get. Here’s each Detroit team’s underrated superstar. Players that are at the top in talent level, but are somehow still flying under the radar.
Detroit Pistons – F/C Greg Monroe
Greg Monroe was the consolation prize in the 2010 draft when Demarcus Cousins failed to drop to the Pistons. However, while Cousins has been a headache — although a talented one — in Sacramento, Monroe has been a quiet star who has worked his way into the conversation among the best centers in the league. This season, he nearly averaged a double/double and showed big improvements over his solid rookie campaign. The best news for Monroe could be that the Pistons selected big, athletic Andre Drummond in the NBA Draft to help Monroe out in the post. Monroe occasionally disappeared against superior big men, but if Drummond develops at center, Monroe could become an elite power forward in the league. Oh yeah, and he’s only 22!
Detroit Red Wings – G Jimmy Howard
Howard was an All-Star last season, but he isn’t usually thought of among the best goalies in the league. As the Red Wings talent level is apparently taking a dive south, Howard’s stock is trending north. He might finally give the Red Wings the “stand on his head” goalie that can carry them through a playoff series — which it’s looking like the Wings will need. Howard was 4th in the league in shutouts and 5th in wins despite only playing in 57 games. Before you say it’s because he was on a good team, check out his Goals Against Average and Save Percentage — a stingy 2.12 and impressive .920. A healthy Howard would outweigh the effect that signing Ryan Sutter would have had.
Detroit Tigers – CF Austin Jackson
Austin Jackson burst onto the scene as an AL Rookie of the Year runner-up in 2010. However, thanks to a subpar 2011 season, Jackson was the forgotten man on the Tigers. This year, though, he might just be the Tigers MVP. As he goes, so goes the team. Despite a brilliant effort by 27-year old rookie Quentin Berry, the Tigers were floundering without Jackson hitting leadoff when he missed a month earlier this year. Jackson is back and the Tigers are back on track, highly unlikely a coincidence. As his power develops and his batting average continues to climb, Jackson is becoming a tremendous five-tool player. His improved plate approach has resulted in fewer K’s and is a testament to this unassuming stars’ work ethic. If 2012 is his norm, Jackson has several All-Star appearances and Gold Gloves in his future.
Detroit Lions – QB Matthew Stafford
I know the skeptics will say don’t get too excited about one season, but what a phenomenal season it was. Stafford rewrote Lions history books with a “carry the team on his back” 2011 playoff season and firmly placed his name among the lists of the NFL’s greatest QB seasons even. Stafford can now be mentioned with Dan Marino, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers as he had the 5th most productive QB season ever in terms of yards and 7th in TDs. Most impressive is that he did it at the age of 23. Among the greatest seasons, only Marino got it going that young. Aaron Rodgers, at 28, was the next youngest. We knew that Stafford was going to be good thanks to a gritty rookie season and great start in his injury plagued 2010 season. Although Lions’ fans might know they have something special, the rest of the league isn’t totally buying it yet. Stafford is overshadowed by Calvin Johnson, was a ludicrous All-Pro snub and he’s underappreciated by the national media — all things which likely mean little to the Lions quietly confident signal caller.