2. Barry Sanders:
Undoubtedly one of the most famous examples of a star athlete who retired too early. Sanders was one of the greatest running backs to ever compete in the NFL, and many still believe he was indeed the greatest. In terms of stats, Sanders almost assuredly would have been the greatest had he not stepped down prior to the 1999 season as he approached Walter Payton’s career record for rushing yards.
While many of the athletes on this list boast impressive accomplishments, Sanders’ were truly breathtaking. He made an alarming 10 Pro Bowls and was selected First-Team All-Pro six times. Sanders was also named the NFL Most Valuable Player (MVP) in 1997 and the NFL Offensive Player of the Year twice. Four times he led the league in rushing yards. He was a Heisman Trophy winner in college.
But unlike many of the athletes here who were forced into retirement because of injuries, Sanders’ story was different. He chose to retire early, with many speculating he had grown sick and tired of playing on a team largely devoid of talent outside of himself. Indeed, Detroit found little true success despite his huge numbers in the rushing game. Others thought he simply didn’t want to break “Sweetness’” records. Either way, this was a shocking retirement that created a lasting impact on the NFL.