Barry Sanders is obviously among the greatest running backs in NFL history, so it’s only natural he also registered an all-time great single-game fantasy performance.
There’s no debating former Lion Barry Sanders as an all-time great running back, at the college level or the NFL–and there’s a bit of “what if…” to both segments of his football career. “What if he hadn’t been behind Thurman Thomas at Oklahoma State?” “What if he had played two or three more NFL seasons at or near the pace he had set?”
CBS Sports recently ranked Sanders’ 2,000-yard season in 1997 as the best all-time NFL running back season ever. Any reflection on his career is sure to be filled with rightful praise, as the best running back of his era (yes, better than Emmitt Smith).
Ben Rolfe of Pro Football Network dove in and fleshed out the 10 best single-game fantasy performances by a running back. He offered a list of PPR performances, but the core list is in standard scoring as that was the prevailing scoring setting for much of the time covered–post 1970 AFL/NFL merger.
Barry Sanders naturally had an all-time single-game fantasy performance
On Nov. 24, 1991, in Week 13, Sanders ran around and through the division rival Minnesota Vikings to the tune of 220 yards and four touchdowns (three in the second half) on 23 carries while adding four catches for 31 yards. His 49.1 fantasy points (again, standard scoring) is No. 10 on Rolfe’s list.
Sanders finished as the No. 1 fantasy running back for the second straight year in 1991, and he did it a third time in 1997. He was a top-10 fantasy back in nine of his 10 NFL seasons, and top-seven eight times.
Sanders had more than 35 receptions six times in his 10 seasons as a Lion, and over 40 catches three times. But case could be made he wasn’t used quite enough as a receiver, given how dynamic he was in space. Giving him more lower impact touches on screens, etc. might have even led to him playing longer.
In today’s game, with the evolution of offenses and the usage of backs in the passing game, it’s scary to think what an in his prime Sanders could do as a receiving weapon to go along with his running ability.