It has been almost 15 seasons now since his abrupt retirement from the NFL, when Barry Sanders indicated he had enough of what had been going on with the Detroit Lions and chose not to play anymore.
Though there is a complete generation of fans who have seen him play only on grainy highlights from the old, decaying Silverdome, he still remains popular. He beat out Adrian Peterson last year to be on the cover of Madden and has become part of this season’s Madden cover vote.
Considering how well he is still regarded and how familiar his name is to NFL fans young and old, the obvious question is how would the running back do today in an NFL now predicated on shotgun and passing instead of the running focus from when he played.
“I don’t know. I think I could adjust,” Sanders told ESPN.com this week. “I think I would just have to do more things in the passing game and out of the backfield, which I think that can make you more dangerous and you see that with a guy like [LeSean] McCoy and a guy like Jamaal Charles. In some cases that can make certain guys more dangerous.
“The two elements really kind of feed off each other and really go hand-in-hand. If you’re a dangerous running back and you can catch the ball out of the backfield, I think that makes your running game more dangerous and your passing game more potent as well. If you’re one-dimensional, I think it’s easier to contain you.”
In that list of do-it-all backs, Sanders also mentioned Detroit running back Reggie Bush as a player who has taken advantage of the new style of offense and running backs. Sanders, for his time, was about as multipurpose as it came. Besides his 15,269 yards rushing over 10 seasons, he also caught 352 passes for 2,921 yards. Though he never caught more than 48 passes in a season -- 1995 -- he never had fewer than 24 receptions, either.
If one can imagine his explosiveness and ability in an offense like New Orleans or Philadelphia or what is expected with the Lions this season, he probably would put up similar numbers to what he did in his 10-year career.
So unlike some players from other eras, Sanders would have almost definitely been able to adjust and have his skills fit in with the NFL of today just as well -- if not better -- than they did in the 1990s.
By Michael Rothstein | ESPN.com