Experts rank Lions’ Barry Sanders second-greatest NFL running back

The Detroit News
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Barry Sanders

Ahead of LaDainian Tomlinson and Terrell Davis being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame next month, three Hall of Fame voters compiled their list of the 10 greatest running backs of all-time.

Voters Rick Gosselin, Clark Judge and Ron Borges, and NFL historian John Turney, conclude that Jim Brown is the greatest, but runnerup is Detroit Lions Hall of Famer Barry Sanders.

Walter Payton, Gale Sayers and Emmitt Smith round out their top five, followed by O.J. Simpson, Eric Dickerson, Marshall Faulk, Earl Campbell and Tomlinson.

Their results were published on

Here are excerpts of their analysis of Sanders:

“Sanders unexpectedly walked away from the game at the age of 31, saying, ‘My desire to exit the game is stronger than my desire to remain in it.’

“He was only 1,457 yards short of Payton’s career rushing record. The knock on Sanders has been that A) He didn’t play on a champion, with the Lions winning only one playoff game during his tenure; B) he had an NFL-record 1,114 yards in minus yardage; and C) he was removed from the lineup in goal-line situations.

“But get real, people. He is one of only two backs to average over five yards a carry for his career. (Jim Brown is the other.) Furthermore, in 1997 he set an NFL record with 14 consecutive 100-yard games (including two 200-yarders) en route to a 2,053-yard year and league MVP season (he shared it with Brett Favre).

“Sanders was named to 10 Pro Bowls and 10 All-Pro units, including six first-teams, and is the only back to rush for 1,500 or more yards in four consecutive seasons. Sanders’ record of 15 career TDs of 50 or more yards rushing is an NFL best, with Jim Brown second at 12. He also has a league-record 46 games with 150 or more yards from scrimmage. Walter Payton is second with 45.”

Gosselin says Sanders is “the most dynamic runner the game has ever seen.”

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