Detroit Lions: 15 best first-round draft picks of all-time

Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /
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Barry Sanders, Detroit Lions
Barry Sanders, Detroit Lions. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Allsport/Getty Images) /

There was no other choice for No. 1 here. It had to be Barry Sanders. That’s because he’s not only the greatest player in Lions football history, but on a short list of the greatest running backs to have ever played football.

Detroit used the No. 3 overall pick to draft the 1988 Heisman Trophy winner out of Oklahoma State in the 1989 NFL Draft. Sanders played his entire 10-year NFL career with the Lions. He made the Pro Bowl every year of his professional career.

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Sanders was the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 1989. He was a six-time first-team All-Pro and a four-time second-team All-Pro.

Sanders led the league in rushing four times, was the NFL Offensive Player of the Year twice, led the NFL in rushing touchdowns once and was the 1997 NFL MVP.

With Walter Payton’s all-time career rushing mark in sight, Sanders abruptly retired after the 1998 NFL season in the midst of his prime at 30 years old.

Sanders finished his illustrious NFL career with 3,062 carries for 15.269 rushing yards and 99 touchdowns. He rushed for over 1,000 yards in all 10 of his NFL seasons.

Sanders has his No. 20 jersey retired by the Lions organization. He made the NFL 1990s All-Decade Team and has been inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame for his time with the Oklahoma State Cowboys.

Next: Detroit Lions: All-time offensive team

In his first year on the ballot, Sanders would be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the Class of 2004. His classmates include Philadelphia Eagles tackle Bob Brown, Minnesota Vikings defensive end Carl Eller and Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway.