Lions great disrespected in recent all-time RB ranking


On Thursday, The 33rd Team’s Dan Pizzuta shared his list of the top 10 running backs in NFL history, and in the No. 4 spot was former Detroit Lions All-Pro running back Barry Sanders.

Pizzuta has Sanders ranked higher than some of the most accomplished running backs in league history, including Marshall Faulk (No. 5), Eric Dickerson (No. 6) and Adrian Peterson (No. 8). The only running backs who were given a higher ranking on the list than the Lions legend were LaDainian Tomlinson (No. 3), Walter Payton (No. 2) and Jim Brown (No. 1).

Now, legitimate arguments can easily be made about why Payton and Brown were given the two highest rankings. However, Tomlinson winding up with a spot above Sanders is a bit puzzling.

Aside from total touchdowns and total catches, almost all of Sanders’ numbers during his career were better than Tomlinson’s.

When comparing his career to Tomlinson’s, the former Detroit running back averaged more rushing yards per game, more yards per reception, more yards per carry, and more total yards per matchup. Sanders was also voted to five more Pro Bowls and four more first-team All-Pro teams in addition to leading the NFL in rushing two more times than Tomlinson did.

What doesn’t seem to be taken into account in the decision to rank Sanders at No. 4 is the fact that he played on teams that had far less talent than the rosters that Tomlinson’s San Diego Chargers.

During his nine seasons with the Chargers, Tomlinson played with a total of 20 Pro Bowlers while Sanders was teammates with only 11 in his 10 years with the Lions.

It’s possible that some recency bias played into the decision to rank Tomlinson higher than Sanders, and the fact that the Chargers were much more successful during Tomlinson’s era than Detroit was with Sanders.

But this shouldn’t be a ranking about which running backs played on the best teams. It wasn’t Sanders’ fault that the Lions front office didn’t surround him with better talent.

When it comes down to strictly determining who was the better running back during their NFL career, regardless of team success, Sanders should be given a higher ranking over Tomlinson 100 percent of the time.

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