Barry Sanders says 'it'll be tough' for Lions to compete in the stacked NFC North

For all his Hall of Fame talent, Barry Sanders still endured plenty of trying times while playing for the Detroit Lions.

Five times during his 1989-1998 run, the Lions made the playoffs, even once to the NFC Championship Game. Half of Sanders' 10 seasons, however, were spent on losing teams, with four different third-place finishes in the division.

Those times may seem familiar to him in 2018.

The Lions haven't been under .500 in three years, and they've made the playoffs three times in their last seven years after an 11-year drought beforehand. But Sanders sees what's happening in the NFC North, particularly with the division-winning Minnesota Vikings and the back-to-health Green Bay Packers, and he hesitates to predict any kind of big run under first-year coach Matt Patricia.

"It'll be tough," Sanders says, "but that's why you play the game. I hope they can compete. We certainly are not the favorite, but you don't have to be. We're hoping for big things from Coach Patricia, but that's really where I would leave it."

Barry Sanders
Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for Tostitos

Celebrating 20 years of retirement, Sanders is now on tour with Tostitos to give away the Stadium Sofa, a dual-level "homegate" couch that's up for grabs through Sept. 10. With built-in tablets, outlets, a mini-fridge and snack holders, he says the only reason you'd leave it is "to take a bathroom break."

But Sanders is still plenty invested in the actual games, too, and if the Lions aren't wholly inspiring for 2018, football's renewed focus on running backs certainly has his interest.

"Most things in football are very cyclical, there's an ebb and flow as the game changes and evolves," he says, "and I think of that with the resurgence of running backs ... I think that last year was a great example."

His personal favorites? He rattles off the following: Leonard Fournette, Ezekiel Elliott, Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram, Todd Gurley and Le'Veon Bell. He suggests that Saquon Barkley, whom he just met at the Lions-New York Giants preseason game this month, could be worth a mention down the road.

"It would be tough for me to choose between those two," he says when asked whether Bell or Gurley is the NFL's current No. 1. "Le'Veon is a great all-around player, and he's more of a pass receiver ... it's just a great crop of young running backs."

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