Everyone knows what an incredible runner the Detroit Lions’ Barry Sanders was, but was he the most versatile back in franchise history?
The evolution of the NFL has been stark over it’s illustrious history. In those early years of the 1920’s and 30’s players had different responsibilities then they do today. The quarterback was still the signal-caller, but his job was to basically hand off the ball and block. It was the halfbacks and fullbacks that did everything.
That’s right, the halfbacks and fullbacks were expected to run, block catch and, yes, they were the passers too. In that time period whoever heard of a quarterback throwing the ball? That was just crazy talk.
As time marched on into the 1950’s and 60’s, the halfbacks and fullbacks had become pure runners that were also asked to block.
When the 1970’s and 80’s rolled around, the halfbacks and fullbacks continued to be runners and blockers, but they were now asked to occasionally catch a pass in the flats and try to make a play out of it.
By the 1990’s and now in the 2000’s the responsibilities had come almost full circle as the backs are expected to not only run, block, catch and sometimes even pass the ball, they also must line up as a receiver in the slot at times and are often asked to stretch the field like a wide out.
As we have seen another season end in disappointment, one of the biggest culprits that contributed to the Detroit Lions‘ demise was an impotent ground game. Something they will try to rectify over the course of the offseason, but in the long history of Lions they can boast several players that were not only outstanding runners, but versatile backs as well.
So as we watch Lions general manager Bob Quinn and new head coach Matt Patricia work on correcting their backfield problem, I decided this would be as good a time as any to take a look at who the most versatile running back in Lions history is.
So having said that, let’s start by getting the elephant in the room out of the way.
Barry Sanders is indeed the most electric runner in Detroit Lions history. As a matter of fact I would say that both Barry and fellow Hall of Famer Gale Sayers were the most elusive, big-play backs the NFL has ever seen.
However, is Barry the most versatile back in franchise history?