Sterling Sharpe’s career in the NFL is often examined in the context of “what could have been.” Sharpe played only seven year in the NFL but during that seven year period, from 1988 to 994, he rivaled the production and impact of the best receivers in the NFL, including the legendary Jerry Rice who was in the prime of his career. Sterling Sharpe received plenty of football experience as a teenager, playing a variety of different positions in high school including linebacker, running back and quarterback, while his participation in sports like basketball and track allowed him to hone many of the skills that would prove so useful later in his career. Following high school Sterling Sharpe attended the University of South Carolina where he was switched to wide receiver, a move that would do wonders for his career. Sharpe immediately excelled at the wide receiver and would go on to be one of the team’s major play makers in years to come. While at South Carolina Sterling Sharpe set a variety of school career receiving records, including the record for receptions with 169, the record for yards with 2,497 and the record for receiving touchdowns with 17. In 1990 Sterling Sharpe has a slight drop in production, though he still notched 67 receptions for 1,105 yards and six touchdowns, good enough for a second consecutive trip to the Pro Bowl.
Heading into the 1988 draft Sterling Sharpe was considered to be one of the top receiving prospects coming of of college along with future Hall of Fame wideouts Tim Brown and Michael Irvin. The highly touted receiver from South Carolina didn’t even make it out of the first ten picks before he was snatched up by the Green Bay Packers with the 8th pick, one spot behind Tim Brown. As the 8th pick in the NFL Draft Sterling expectations for Sterling Sharpe were high in Green Bay though after his rookie performance they would only get higher. In his first year in the league Sharpe caught 55 passes for 791 yards and 1 score, a more than respectable stat line for a rookie receiver. While his 1988 numbers were impressive, Sharpe would almost double them the following year with a league leading 90 catches for 1,423 yards and 12 touchdowns, earning him his first Pro Bowl appearance in only the second year of his career.
1991 is statistically the second worst year of Sharpe’s career, second only to his rookie year, as he was able to compile only 69 catches for 971 yards a 4 touchdowns. 1992 was arguably the best year of Sharpe’s short NFL career, not only because he put up monster stats and broke the NFL’s single season reception record but also because it was the first year of Brett Favre’s legendary career in Greenbay. In 1992 Favre and Sharpe combined to form one of the most passing duos in the NFL as Sharpe played his way to a record 107 catches for 1,461 yards and 13 touchdowns. In 1993 Sharpe broke his own single season reception record with 112 catches for 1,274 yards and 11 scores, making him the first player in league history to record two consecutive 100 catch seasons. Needless to say Sharpe was a lock for the Pro Bowl in 1992 and 1993 and would make a third consecutive trip in 1994 on the heels of a 94 catch 1,119 yard season that also saw the seventh year wide receiver notch a career high 18 touchdowns. Unfortunately for Sterling Sharpe and the Green Bay Packers during the last two games of the season he suffered multiple injuries to his neck causing two vertebra in his neck to become damaged. Although there was initially hope that Sharpe would return in 1996 after recovering from surgery that possibility was virtually ruled out by doctors and he was forced into early retirement.
In his 7 short years in the NFL Sharpe compiled an incredible 595 receptions for 8,134 yards and 65 touchdowns. While he was definitely an elite talent at wide receiver Sterling Sharpe’s production was helped by the fact that he never missed a single game in his entire 7 year career. With those type of numbers if Sharpe had been able to play another 5 or 7 years at the same level before having to hang it up he would easily be considered one of the best wide receivers to ever play in the NFL.