Greatest Player: Barry Sanders
Undoubtedly the most electric player in NFL history, Barry Sanders was a threat to take it to the house every time he touched the ball. Sanders possessed a unique combination of quickness, elusiveness, and strength that may never been seen again. Despite playing behind a weak offensive line on a struggle team, Sanders still managed to become the first back in history to notch five 1,500-yard seasons.
Frustrated with management and their inability to surround him with better players — which often lead to defenses ganging up on him — Sanders shocked the NFL community and retired in 1998 at the age of 30.
Runner Up: Calvin Johnson
You don’t get a nickname like Megatron unless you’re capable of doing things no human should be able to do. That is the perfect way to describe Calvin Johnson, who was a physical anomaly compared to the other great receivers in NFL history. At 6’5’’ and 238 lbs., he had both size and strength. But he also had sub 4.40 in the 40-yard-dash speed, unreal leaping ability, and hands that would catch any ball thrown anywhere near him. In other words, he’s kind of a freak of nature.
During his nine seasons with the Lions, Johnson played on a lot of bad or average teams. But even with opposing defenses focused solely on him, he could not be stopped. He surpassed 1,000 yards receiving in seven of his nine seasons, including the 2012 campaign when he set the NFL single-season record with 1,964 yards receiving, topping a paltry 1,681 yards to lead the league the season before. Johnson is one of a handful of receivers to have over 1,600 yards in consecutive seasons. Sadly, he retired with plenty in the tank, but in the years he did play, there was nobody in football like him.