Barry Sanders never had a 50-catch season during his Hall of Fame career, but if the former Detroit Lions running back were playing in the NFL today, he said he thinks he’d be a bigger weapon in the passing game.
“I would guess (they’d use me) probably coming more of the backfield more,” Sanders told the Free Press at the NFL draft last month. “Try and utilize some of those matchups with linebackers.”
Sanders had at least 300 carries in seven of his 10 NFL seasons, but he was used lightly in the passing game for most of his career. He topped 40 receptions just three times, in 1991 and ’94-95.
The Lions made the playoffs all three of those seasons, and Sanders posted three of the five highest rushing totals of his career in those years.
Last year, LeSean McCoy (314 carries) and Marshawn Lynch (301) were the only NFL running backs with more than 300 carries, while 13 backs — including the Lions’ duo of Reggie Bush and Joique Bell — had at least 50 receptions.
“(The position has) definitely changed,” Sanders said. “You also see a lot of the running backs picking up a lot more yards in the passing game, and we still got some terrific runners that are making a big difference in the game. It’s just the allocation of carries are a little different among a lot of teams. But you still have guys going for 1,300 and 1,700 yards that are very valuable for their team.”
Sixteen years after his last NFL game, Sanders still ranks third on the NFL’s all-time rushing list, behind Emmitt Smith and Walter Payton, with 15,269 yards.
Smith’s rushing record (18,355) seems relatively secure given the changing nature of the position — Adrian Peterson, who has 10,115 career yards and will play his eighth NFL season this fall at age 29, is the only active player within striking distance (Steven Jackson has about 500 more yards than Peterson, but his career is clearly on the decline) — but Sanders said that today’s backs are still capable of putting up big rushing numbers if given the opportunity.
“I think there’s certainly those guys that command the ball 20 times a game that are going to get those touches,” Sanders said. “You don’t have as many as those guys and you don’t have as many coaches that believe in that kind of system, but there are still those guys.”
By | Dave Birkett