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Is Barry Sanders the Greatest Running Back of All Time?

Updated on September 26, 2017

There is a lot of debate among Football lovers as to who really is the Greatest Running Back of all time. Sure you could say, "well the stats show it is Emmitt Smith", but stats aren't the only thing important to us football fanatics. In this series I will be breaking down my favorites based on stats and playing performance per year. Not just all their stats totaled, but how well they performed while they were playing. Whether they got hurt and only played a few years and those who may have been in the hall of fame if they had played longer. I will take all of these instances into consideration in making my estimation of the greatest of all time. However, you the reader will determine on who, in the hubbers eyes, is the greatest of all time. Just go to the bottom of the page and vote for your favorite. There are 15 Candidates, but I have only chosen 10 to write about. I may mess up and not write about the popular vote, but if I do, don't worry. The winning vote will have a hub published all about their illustrious career and given a salute to their greatness.

Our first candidate is Barry Sanders

Barry was born on July 16, 1968 in Wichita Kansas. He went to high school at Wichita North. The interesting thing about his high school career is that he only played running back in 7 games. While only playing 7 games, he gained over 1,300 yards, nearly 200 yards a game. Because Barry was so small, not many colleges wanted him. He eventually was accepted by Oklahoma State. Unfortunately Oklahoma State already had a pretty decent Running Back by the name of Thurman Thomas which put Barry in the back up roll. After Thurman Thomas was drafted to the NFL, Barry became the lead back and set the bar that every back strives to get to today. He gained 2,628 yards rushing averaging 7.6 yards per carry, over 200 yards per game, 3,249 all purpose yards, 39 total touchdowns, 37 rushing touchdowns. In the Holiday bowl he gained 222 more yards rushing and 5 touchdowns which don't go toward his season totals. He won the Heisman Trophy that year and later declared for the NFL draft, choosing not to come back for his senior season. And who could blame him.

Barry was the #3 overall pick by the Detroit Lions in 1989 despite the Lions first choice being the other Sanders, Deion. One of the things that make Barry the greatest of all time is, unlike most backs, Barry stayed with this one team his whole career. Barry was definitely the most humble back in NFL history. Upon being drafted by the Lions, he was offered the number 20 Jersey, which has been worn by former Lions greats. Barry thought of this as an honor. Not once have I ever seen Barry do a celebration dance after scoring a touchdown. Rather than dancing, Barry simply handed the ball to the referee after almost every touchdown he scored.

In his rookie campaign, Barry won the rookie of the year award finishing 2nd in rushing yards, just 10 yards behind the leading rusher, Christian Okoye. Sanders led the Lions to 5 playoff berths, but never to the Super Bowl. They got close one year, winning 12 games in the 1991 season, but fell short of the Super Bowl. Barry was a Pro Bowl selection each of his 10 NFL years. He gained over 1,000 yards each season, had 5 1,500 plus yard season, 4 being consecutive. In 1997 Barry reached a plateau that only 3 others have. He gained 2,053 rushing yards, 2,000 of those yards came in the last 14 games of the season. In his final season, 1998, he rushed for only 1,491 yards breaking his 4 year 1,500+ rushing yard streak. He finished his career with 15,269 rushing yard, just 1,457 yards short of the all time rushing leader, Walter Payton. It was estimated that if Barry had played one more season he would have owned that said record. He is still respectively ranked #3 on the all time leading rusher list.

Barry's retirement  in 1999 shocked the football world. He hadn't lost a step over 10 years and was only 30 years old. I remember myself wondering why in the world he retired. He had just came off of a good season only preceded by his best season ever in 1997, winning the MVP award. It later surface that Barry hated losing while with the Lions. It was just too much for him to deal with so ultimately being the person Barry was he decided to retire, rather than ask to be traded. He did have to pay back several million dollars in bonus money, but with the several millions dollars he was making a year I think he managed.

Barry Sanders' Achievements are listed below:

  • 34 Collegiate Records
  • 1988 Heisman Trophy Winner
  • 1988 Walter Camp Award
  • 1988 Maxwell Trophy
  • 1988 Chic Harley Award
  • 1988 College Football Player of the Year
  • #2 Greatest College Football Player Ever
  • Rookie of the Year 1989
  • Offensive Player of the year 1994 and 1997
  • 1997 NFL MVP
  • 1997 Bert Bell Award
  • 1990's All Decade Team
  • 10,00 Yard Rushing Club
  • 2004 Hall of Fame Inductee
  • #20 Lions Jersey Retired

Career Stats

  • 3,062 career rushing attempts (4th all time)
  • 18,190 career yards from scrimmage (4th all time)
  • 15,269 career rushing yards (3rd all time)
  • 2,921 career receiving yards
  • 99 career rushing touchdowns (8th all time)
  • 352 career receptions
  • 10 career receiving touchdowns
  • 109 career total touchdowns (10th all time)

I hope you enjoyed this short breakdown of the great Barry Sanders. Stay tuned to the Greatest Running Backs of all time series to see the final results. There will be 10 candidates but only one winner.

Who is your choice for greatest running back of all time?

See results


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    • HELLA profile image

      HELLA 7 years ago from Boston

      Defintely, best running back of all time is the great Laurence Maroney.

    • acanderson24 profile image

      acanderson24 7 years ago

      Hey man....Barry was nice wasn't he? Good luck on this one is so hard because of what each back brought to his respective team. Two that really stick out to me are Walter Payton and Marshall Faulk...utility backs....even Marcus Allen belongs in there....A career cut short, Barry Sanders....imagine the stats. Despite O.J's post career antics...that dude could run like the wind, even in the snow. Gayle Brown was a man before his time...No Limit Emmitt...Bo Jackson another career cut this is to hard...good luck, from your new fan,