July 21, 2013

Rookie of the Year: Barry Sanders, 1989

Running Back, Detroit Lions

Age: 21
College: Oklahoma State
Height: 5’8”   Weight: 203

Following a sensational Heisman-winning season as a junior in which he rushed for 2628 yards and scored 39 touchdowns, Sanders chose to forego his last year of eligibility and turn pro. He was taken by the Lions in the first round of the 1989 NFL draft (third overall) and while a contract holdout lasted through the preseason, he quickly established himself as a key component in the offense.

1989 Season Summary
Appeared in 15 of 16 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Attempts – 280 [7]
Most attempts, game - 30 (for 184 yds.) at Green Bay 10/29
Yards – 1470 [2, 1st in NFC]
Most yards, game – 184 yards (on 30 carries) at Green Bay 10/29
Average gain – 5.3 [4]
TDs – 14 [2, tied with Ottis Anderson]
100-yard rushing games – 7

Pass Receiving
Receptions – 24      
Most receptions, game – 6 (for 96 yds.) at NY Giants 9/17
Yards – 282
Most yards, game - 96 (on 6 catches) at NY Giants 9/17
Average gain – 11.8
TDs – 0

Kickoff Returns
Returns – 5
Yards – 118
Average per return – 23.6
TDs – 0
Longest return – 43 yards

All-purpose yards – 1870 [2, 1st in NFC]

TDs – 14 [5, tied with Ottis Anderson]
Points – 84

Awards & Honors:
NFL Rookie of the Year: NEA, Sporting News
NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year: AP, PFWA
NFC Rookie of the Year: UPI
1st team All-NFL: AP, PFWA, Pro Football Weekly, Sporting News
2nd team All-NFL: NEA
1st team All-NFC: UPI, Pro Football Weekly
Pro Bowl

Lions went 7-9 to finish third in the NFC Central while leading the NFL in yards per rushing attempt (4.9) and rushing touchdowns (23).

Sanders followed up with a league-leading 1304 yards in 1990 and again was a first-team All-Pro and Pro Bowl participant. He rushed for 1548 yards in 1991, garnering MVP recognition for the first time, and maintained his excellence over a career of ten years before abruptly retiring after the 1998 season. Sanders led the league in ground-gaining four times, including a 2053-yard total in ’97, and never failed to gain a thousand yards – his lowest total was 1115 in 1993, when he missed five games due to injury, his only extended loss of playing time. He made up for lack of size with outstanding elusiveness and running instincts. Sanders was selected for the Pro Bowl following all ten seasons, was a consensus first-team All-Pro six times, and with his exciting, often-improvisational running style was a highlight film regular. He retired with 15,269 rushing yards and scored a total of 109 touchdowns. Sanders was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2004.


Rookie of the Year Profiles feature players who were named Rookie of the Year in the NFL (including NFC/AFC), AFL (1960-69), or USFL (1983-85) by a recognized organization (Associated Press – Offense or Defense, Newspaper Enterprise Association, United Press International, The Sporting News, or the league itself – Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year). 

[Updated 11/29/14]