In some ways, Ricky Sanders was a victim of bad timing.
In just about any other year, putting up a then-record 193 yards and two touchdowns on nine catches in a Super Bowl would be worthy of MVP honors. Unfortunately, Sanders was just one of several offensive stars that day, as running back Timmy Smith ran for 204 yards (a Super Bowl record that still stands), and quarterback Doug Williams threw four touchdown passes in the second quarter of the Redskins’ 42-10 win over Denver in Super Bowl XXII.
Williams won the MVP, and deservedly so. But Sanders at least famously got to catch a pass from President Reagan. I’ll always remember Sanders’ Super Bowl performance as the crowning achievement of a very solid career.
That game capped Sanders’ second NFL season. Like teammate Gary Clark, Sanders had begun his pro career in the USFL. The Patriots had his rights via the 1984 Supplemental Draft, but traded them to Washington when the USFL folded in 1985.
Sanders joined Clark and Art Monk to form “The Posse,” the most dangerous trio of receivers in the NFL. Sanders added a deep-threat component that stretched defenses and helped Monk and Clark pile up big reception totals.
Sanders caught only 14 balls in 1986, his first year in Washington (when he actually wore #46, believe it or not). However, he averaged over 20 yards per catch, reflecting his potential as a deep weapon. In 1987, he gained 630 yards in the 12 games that the non-replacement Redskins played, then exploded in the playoffs against the Bears and the Broncos.
Sanders posted 1,000-yard seasons each of the next two years, and continued to be a Redskin mainstay as Washington returned to the playoffs from 1990 through 1992. He helped the Redskins to another Super Bowl title following the 1991 season.
Sanders caught 414 passes for 5,854 yards and 36 touchdowns in his time with the Redskins. Although he played two seasons in Atlanta after leaving DC, and was on a couple of other rosters, his greatest impact, by far, was with Washington. Sanders earned a spot on the 70 Greatest Redskins list for his contributions.
There’s nobody else who wore #83 who really comes close to Sanders in my book. The nearest competitor according to Pro Football Reference’s “Approximate Value” system is Albert Connell, who had a couple of good seasons with Washington before leaving for New Orleans.
But his numbers, and his tenure, don’t approach what Sanders accomplished. He’s the rightful pick at #83.
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