Barry Sanders makes list of all-time greats with perfect encapsulation of why

Barry Sanders landed on a recent list of all-time NFL greats, and the explanation for why is absolutely perfect.

If not for retiring a little earlier than expected, Barry Sanders might be the NFL's all-time leading rusher right now. But he didn't hang on like Emmitt Smith did, as a shell of what he had been. As it Sanders is fourth on the all-time rushing list, less than 3,000 yards behind Smith despite playing five fewer seasons.

College or pro, Sanders stands as one of the best running backs ever seen. He made the Pro Bowl every season of his NFL career, and his 2,628 yards at Oklahoma State in 1988 stands as the NCAA record for a season. He also topped 2,000 rushing yards in 1997, and won NFL MVP in what turned out to be his second-to-last season.

Where you place Sanders among all-time great NFL running backs is somewhat subjective and maybe dependent on your fandom, but it's hard to put him above Jim Brown and Walter Payton. I think we can all agree Sanders was undeniably more talented than Smith, who unfortunately may stand as the league's all-time leading rusher longer than anyone else has.

A perfect encapsulation of what made Barry Sanders uniquely great

Bryan DeArdo of CBS Sports recently offered up his ranking for the 25 best players in NFL history. Sanders comes in at No. 9, the third running back behind Brown (No. 3) and Payton (No. 4). Sanders' place in the ranking is fine, but DeArdo perfectly outlined what made the Lions' Hall of Famer unique.

"Unless you saw him play, it's hard to describe the experience of watching Barry Sanders on the football field. The former Detroit Lions star ran with a style that wasn't seen before and hasn't been seen since. A wizard with the football, Sanders made the impossible look routine. He often turned what appeared to be 5-yard losses into long runs that are now played on loops at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Sanders parlayed his unique running style into a decorated career that included four rushing titles and 15,259 career rushing yards in 10 seasons."

A current young running back in the NFL, Bijan Robinson, professed his love for watching Sanders highlights before the 2023 draft. The NFL has a collection of 50 "ridiculous" Sanders plays you can find here, but a search for "Barry Sanders highlights" on YouTube or course bares a lot of other fruit.

As a smaller back, who was arguably underutilized as a pass catcher even in a different era of the NFL, Sanders was uniquely special with the ball in his hands. Anyone who saw him play knows and remembers that. DeArdo did a perfect job describing the phenomenon in the space of a single paragraph.


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